“We always kind of think as the western area as the wild west, because it’s unpredictable and it can shift with the political winds,” UW-La Crosse political science professor Anthony Chergosky explained. Home to a disproportionate number of Wisconsin’s pivot counties, it’s become emblematic of some of Wisconsin’s swingiest politics. While the 3rd Congressional District has elected moderate Democrat Ron Kind over several cycles and more than twenty years, it voted for President Trump in 2016 and is considered the only competitive Congressional race in the state heading into November 3 (albeit rated leaning Democrat).
Long the GOP stronghold of Wisconsin, the “WOW” counties (Washington, Ozaukee, Waukesha) are the traditional catalyst to victory for statewide Republican races with their high turnout, high-Republican, high-population makeup. But in 2016, Trump’s margins of victory slipped here below Mitt Romney’s performance in 2012, and Trump’s polling among suburban women in particular could be a continued cause for concern here where votes typically number well over 300,000.
Dane & Milwaukee Counties
Dane and Milwaukee counties vote blue in overwhelming majorities and form the crux of the Democrat vote in Wisconsin. One of the state’s most affluent, highly-educated, and fastest growing counties, Dane County alone accounted for about 300,000 votes in 2016. That was about three-quarters of Milwaukee County’s (historically low) turnout, at about 415,000 votes–despite Dane County’s population being less than 60% of Milwaukee County’s. High turnout here is crucial to former vice president Joe Biden.
The Green Bay media market has been a heavy focus for visits and ad buys from the Trump campaign. Here, the “BOW” counties (Brown, Outagamie, Winnebago) are a heavy battleground for an upper hand, where they’ve voted for both conservative and liberal judges since 2016, but turned out for Trump in 2016.
Winnebago County is another bellweather to keep an eye on, voting for the winner in all but three presidential elections since 1952. Voting for Obama in 2012, Democrats doing well here is a good sign for liberals overall in the state as results roll in.
Racking up massive victory margins across central, northern and north western Wisconsin counties was yet another factor pushing Trump over the winning line in 2016. The 7th Congressional District has been a Republican stronghold since former Representative Sean Duffy flipped the seat in 2010 during the Tea Party wave. Helped along by redistricting that went into effect the following year, the district voted for Trump by 20 points four years ago, after being represented by Democrat Dave Obey for forty years.
Pivot counties in the region like Lincoln that voted for President Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012 swung heavily right in 2016. Other counties in the area like Oneida that maintained Republican majorities prior to 2016 did so but frequently by much smaller margins; Marathon County has voted for both Republican and Democrat presidents since 2000 but often by smaller margins of four to six points.
“Another place to pay attention to is the northwest corner, which is really interesting in that it’s quite rural and yet for many presidential elections it has gone for the Democratic candidate,” UW-Madison professor Kathy Cramer noted. Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties remain a spot of blue in a sea of red for several past general elections.
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