When the Republican presidential candidates hold their first debate on Wednesday in Milwaukee, not only will the spotlight be on them, but also on Wisconsin’s status as one of a diminishing number of genuine battleground states. Because of Wisconsin’s well-earned status as a swing state, Republicans selected Milwaukee not only for the first debate but also for the national convention in 11 months. Four of the last six presidential elections in this state were decided by less than one percentage point, with Donald Trump narrowly prevailing in 2016 and losing by a similar margin in 2020.
Longtime Republican strategist Stephan Thompson stated, “Everyone needs to be prepared for all-out war as usual.” To participate in Wednesday’s debate, the Republican National Committee demanded that candidates meet certain donor and polling thresholds as well as sign a pledge to support the Republican nominee in the general election. Trump, the leading candidate who faces criminal allegations in four distinct cases, has stated that he will not be present.
Key Republican Figures Vie for Stage at Upcoming RNC Event
On stage are anticipated to be Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. Asa Hutchinson, the former governor of Arkansas, Francis Suarez, the mayor of Miami, and Perry Johnson, an industrialist from Michigan, all claim to have met the qualifications for the stage. The official lineup is still being compiled because candidates have until Monday evening to provide the RNC with proof of qualification.
In less than five months, Republican primary electors will cast their ballots for the nomination, beginning with Iowa’s caucus on January 15, followed by other early states in February. In November, the eventual nominee is anticipated to confront President Joe Biden.
Wisconsin will be one of the most competitive general election contests. It is a distinction held by a decreasing number of places that frequently change, as erstwhile transition states like Ohio and Florida become more consistently Republican and Virginia and Colorado become more Democratic. This leaves Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada as the states most likely to determine the presidential election.
In recognition of the significance of Wisconsin, Biden visited Milwaukee last week to discuss his efforts to create manufacturing employment. Sunday, his campaign announced it will spend $25 million to counter Republican debate ads in seven states, including Wisconsin. The ad purchase includes the campaign’s first investments in Hispanic and African-American media, according to the campaign.
Wisconsin has been a top electoral target for more than two decades.
In 2000, Al Gore won Wisconsin by only 5,700 ballots, or 0.22 percent of the total votes cast. This makes Biden’s 2020 victory by nearly 21,000 ballots, or 0.56%, appear to be a landslide. John Kerry’s 0.38 percent margin of victory in 2004 and Donald Trump’s 0.77 percent victory in 2016 were also razor-thin.
And there is no indication that Wisconsin will become less evenly divided.
During the Trump era, Democrats have made inroads into the once reliably conservative Milwaukee suburbs, where Republican support has declined. Dane County, home to Madison, the liberal capital of Wisconsin, and the University of Wisconsin, also benefited from Democratic population growth.
Efforts by the Democrats have assisted in offsetting rural Republican gains made during the Trump administration.
Professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Anthony Chergosky, asserts, “Wisconsin has nearly the ideal mix of urban, suburban, and rural populations required to maintain a competitive status.” All of this adds up to a state that is politically intensely contested but does not resemble what it did 10, 20, or 30 years ago.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, whose district includes Madison, pointed out that Republicans chose Wisconsin to be the first state to initiate its early voting initiative, endorsing a strategy that Democrats have utilized for decades but that Trump and other Republicans rejected and falsely claimed was rife with fraud. Trump now also promotes early voting.
Wisconsin Democrats enter the 2024 presidential election season with confidence.
They have won fourteen of the previous seventeen statewide elections, including Biden in 2020, Governor Tony Evers in 2022, and Janet Protasiewicz in April. Her victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race stripped conservatives of majority control of the court for the first time in 15 years, with significant decisions pending on abortion access, redistricting, and voting rules.
Republicans have scored victories, including the reelection of U.S. Senator Ron Johnson last year, the acquisition of a congressional seat, and the expansion of their majorities in the state Senate and Assembly. Thompson stated that the losses in the presidential, governor, and Supreme Court races overshadowed these gains.
In addition to the 2016 presidential election, Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin will seek reelection for a third term in 2016. And both parties are preparing for the possibility that the new liberal-controlled Congress will adopt a more conservative stance. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin orders new legislative districts and compels every incumbent lawmaker to run for re-election.
This summer, DeSantis displayed strength in the presidential campaign while he labored nationally.
In a poll released on June 29 by the Marquette University Law School, Trump was favored by 31% of Republican and Republican-leaning independent respondents, while DeSantis garnered the support of 30% of respondents. In a head-to-head matchup, however, 57% favored DeSantis and 41% favored Trump.
Since that poll was conducted, Trump has been indicted a third and fourth time, and DeSantis has restructured his campaign in an effort to eat away at Trump’s national support.
On Trump, Wisconsin Republicans are more divided than during his previous two campaigns. Trump’s refusal to concede defeat in 2020, as well as his repeated falsehoods about the outcome in Wisconsin and demands to invalidate the results, alienated him from many of the party’s most prominent members.
The Democrat Pocan said of Trump, “He’s kind of like a warm beer.” “He does not represent what we aspire for in this state. I simply do not believe he has a great deal of development potential if he becomes the Republican nominee.”
During a July fundraising trip to Wisconsin, DeSantis attracted more than a dozen Republican state legislators, including former governor Tommy Thompson, former lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleefisch, and the 2022 Republican candidate for governor, Tim Michels. The hosts included Republican megadonors Dick and Liz Uihlein, who contributed to Trump’s 2016 and 2020 election campaigns.
“Wisconsin Republicans will consider whether this candidate can defeat Trump in the primary and whether they can defeat Joe Biden.” Thompson declared. “At the end of the day, individuals here only desire victory. “Simple and direct.”