By Larry Levine –
A look at the results of the Wisconsin Primary Election announced this week as well as a review of recent electoral history provide encouraging indicators for Democrats hopeful of winning the state’s electoral college votes come November.
“Flipping” Wisconsin, along with Pennsylvania and Michigan, are generally thought to be must-do challenges if former Vice President Joe Biden is to oust President Donald Trump from the White House. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin by 22,748 votes in 2016, less than one percent of the turnout.
While it was easy for Democrats to look at the results of the Michigan Primary in March and come away hopeful, the picture in Wisconsin is not as clear.
In the Michigan primary Biden whomped Sen. Bernie Sanders in all the same precincts where Sanders and then Trump whomped Clinton four years ago. CONCLUSION: Michigan voters will vote for a Democrat; they just wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. Afterall didn’t President Barack Obama carry Michigan twice. Didn’t the Obama-Biden administration save the auto industry. Didn’t Biden just win where Clinton lost. All reasons for Democratic optimism.
Many of the same factors were visible after the Wisconsin Primary. Sanders had defeated Clinton in the 2016 primary and Trump then defeated her in all the same places in the General Election. But this year, Biden carried those areas over Sanders. What makes it less clear is that Sanders, while still on the ballot, had all but dropped out before the Wisconsin election this month, while four years ago Sanders and Clinton were in a pitched battle.
Further muddling the picture was: 1) the impact of the coronavirus on Election Day turnout, 2) a confusing sting of legislative and court actions regarding the holding of the election, and 3) the fact that while there was a very hot Republican presidential primary four years ago this year there was no challenge to the Republican incumbent Trump.
In the Wisconsin results announced this week, a liberal Democrat ousted a conservative Republican incumbent member of the State Supreme Court. Despite an all-in Republican effort from the President on down to the county level to defend the incumbent the race wasn’t even close.
In heavily Democratic Milwaukee, the number of polling places open on Election Day was cut from 180 to 5 because of the pandemic. Attempts to move the election to a later date, advocated by the Democratic governor to combat the potential threat to turnout posed by the virus, were overridden by the legislature. The Supreme Court backed the Republican-dominated legislature in what legal scholars called a strange decision. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the court’s decision meant people “will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety. Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own.”
“Brave the polls” they did in numbers that stunned leaders of both political parties. With masked faces and while observing recommended six feet of physical separation, Democratic voters waited in line as long as two hours to vote in Milwaukee.
Some Republican Party leaders shrugged off the result of the Supreme Court election, at least publicly. They pointed out the November turnout will be about twice that of the primary. They rightly said Democratic voters were more motivated by the presidential primary and the Democrats did a better job or organizing their vote-by-mail effort for voters who did not want to “brave the polls.” And some Republicans claimed the legislature and the courts created confusion that backfired and discouraged many Republican voters from showing up.
Monroe County Republican Party Chair Doug Rogalla told The Washington Post, “While Republicans encouraged early and absentee voting, many elderly either did not have the wherewithal to request absentee ballots or the inclination to vote in person. They were confused, afraid and decided to stay home.”
While the turnout and result of the Wisconsin Primary don’t offer as clear a hope for Democrats in November as did the Michigan Primary, there are a few other things worth consideration.
If this was just about the loss of a Supreme Court seat under strange circumstances, Republicans could easily brush it aside. But a review of recent statewide elections reveals the Clinton loss to Trump in Wisconsin in 2016 was an anomaly.
• Barack Obama carried the state twice.
• In 2018, two years after Trump defeated Clinton in Wisconsin, Democrats swept all five statewide offices – U.S. Senate, Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Treasurer.
• In the Gubernatorial and Attorney General Elections the Democrats defeated Republican incumbents, including Trump-backed Gov. Scott Walker.
• In 2018, Trump turned the election into a national referendum on himself. Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives as well as sweeping the statewide offices in Wisconsin. This year Trump put himself on the line for the defeated Supreme Court Justice.
The primary election results in Michigan offered clear indication that state could return to the Democratic fold this year, but all one can say with certainty about Wisconsin is it will be a battle royal, and probably now has to be rated as leans Democratic.