Apr 10, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Why Dems have a leg up on the GOP in Wisconsin's ground battle

Illustration of a large hand placing a small plastic elephant on a map over Wisconsin

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

MILWAUKEE — Well-funded Wisconsin Democrats are waging a tech-infused tell-a-friend campaign for the November elections, while Republicans in the crucial swing state are scrambling to catch up in staffing and fundraising.

Why it matters: The ground campaign in Wisconsin reflects the advantages that Democrats have in some states at a time when Republicans are scrambling to build up or revamp their ground operations.

  • Democrats in Wisconsin have added to a campaign infrastructure they used in flipping the state Supreme Court last year, which gave them an opportunity to overturn GOP-drawn legislative maps and draw new ones more favorable to Democrats.
  • It's paying off: From January through March, Wisconsin Democrats outraised Republicans 11 to 1.
  • Even so, polls in the presidential race indicate President Biden and former President Trump are virtually tied in Wisconsin, and Trump has shown slight leads in other politically divided swing states.

Zoom in: Democrats' paid organizers are holding bracelet-making sessions (think Taylor Swift) on college campuses to reach student voters, and Bingo nights in areas such as Milwaukee's Northside neighborhood, part of an effort to reach Black voters.

  • To recruit many voters — especially young adults — Biden's campaign has begun using the Reach App, which has library of material for supporters to share with friends on social media, and encourage others to support the president.
  • The campaign, which is stressing abortion rights, also is targeting suburban women in the "WOW counties" of southeastern Wisconsin: Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington.
  • Biden's campaign and the DNC have been closely coordinated on the Wisconsin ground campaign, with 40 offices across the state and several dozen full-time staffers — benchmarks that Republicans hope to be closer to by the Nov. 5 elections.

The other side: Wisconsin Republicans are targeting Biden's base in Milwaukee and Madison, and seeking to turn out voters in the northern and western parts of the state in particular.

  • They're interviewing candidates for staff positions, trying to catch up to Democrats' year-round operation.
  • Wisconsin GOP Chair Brian Schimming told Axios he expects his staff to grow to several dozen and is scouting office locations.

What they're saying: "Democrats have had pretty good success the past several years," Ben Voulkel, an adviser to Republican Senate candidate Eric Hovde, told Axios.

  • "But Republicans are right there in the mix. There's been success recently that speaks to the mood among [Republican] voters," he added, pointing to recent GOP wins on two statewide referenda and a mayoral race in Wausau.

What we're watching: Biden visited Wisconsin this week; Trump was there last week.

  • Biden used his visit to announce one of his plans to cancel some student debt.
  • Trump's darker speech speech was from his 2024 playbook: He railed against undocumented immigrants and said the U.S. faces economic ruin unless it elects him.

In a state where conservative radio looms large, Trump gave an interview to radio host Dan O'Donell before the rally.

  • He later met with and endorsed Hovde, who's running against Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D).
  • Hovde said he agrees with most of Trump's policies but will not "engage in his politics of personal destruction."
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