President Donald Trump is likely to win the rural areas of Wisconsin, but can he generate enough votes in the Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington (WOW) counties to take home our state’s electoral votes?
In an op-ed appearing at CNN.com, I point out that the WOW engine for Republican votes is not what it once was.
An analysis of Marquette University Law School poll data by Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel showed President Donald Trump leading former Vice President Joe Biden by 26 percentage points in the WOW counties in 2020, down three points from his 2016 lead. That sounds impressive but, as Gilbert noted, Mitt Romney won the WOW counties by 35 points in his presidential campaign in 2012 and still lost Wisconsin. Former President George W. Bush won the WOW counties by 35 and 36 points in 2000 and 2004 respectively and lost Wisconsin both times.
Dr. Charles Franklin, the director for the Marquette Law School Poll, told the Wisconsin State Journal that recent election results in statewide Supreme Court races also show the WOW counties’ support for the GOP may be eroding.
“That’s why both parties are paying attention here,” Franklin told the newspaper. “I think both parties see this is a slippage that’s something that needs to be stopped if you’re the Republicans and something that needs to be exploited if you’re the Democrats.”
After listing a number of reasons why my friends and neighbors are currently uneasy, I point out the flip side of the equation.
However, that uncertainty and fear have a counterweight on the scale: the protests, which have been violent at times. Voters in the WOW counties want to be “fair,” but at the same time they believe the police deserve our support. Brandon Rosner, a health care consultant in Waukesha County, supported the First Amendment rights of the protesters.
“I think the protests are a wonderful, constitutional way for people to express their concerns. I welcome peaceful protests as a resident and as a citizen of Wisconsin and Waukesha,” Rosner said to me in an interview. “Yet the police in our community, they have a very difficult job at times and they’re under extreme scrutiny because they have to enforce these laws and maintain law and order.”
While the suburbs were initially supportive of the Black Lives Matters protests, the looting and violence have dampened that support in the areas outside of Milwaukee. The favorable rating for Black Lives Matters experienced a 25-point drop in support from June to September, according to the Marquette Law School Poll. And pictures of the aftermath of some of this violence, whether of the vandalized state capitol, the nearby boarded-up businesses or the destruction in Kenosha have undermined the legitimacy of any of the protests.
Trump’s personal conduct remains a big factor why he’s behind in the polls, but I also add that Republican voters in the WOW region could still come home.
While Trump’s voter core has found an almost infinite capacity to explain away or forgive the President’s personal conduct and rhetoric, the more independent voters of the WOW counties wish they could have the conservative judges and tax cuts without the Trump circus. Still, the Democrats could scare enough voters into supporting Trump.
Higher taxes, threats to gun rights and even more talk by Biden’s fellow Democrats about defunding the police, will remind many suburban voters why they didn’t trust the Democrats four years ago. And if the Democrats fall into the trap of attacking Judge Amy Coney Barrett for her religious beliefs during her confirmation hearings, the Supreme Court vacancy could be enough to bring wayward Wisconsin Republican voters home — just as another Supreme Court vacancy did in 2016.