Wisconsin GOP presidential debate highlights one of the few remaining swing states

When the Republican presidential candidates meet for their first debate on Wednesday in Milwaukee, the spotlight will not only be on them but also on Wisconsin, one of a handful of de facto states falling short of the battleground states.

Republicans chose Milwaukee not only for the first debate, but for the national convention in only 11 months, largely due to Wisconsin’s good standing as a swing state. Four of the last six presidential elections have been decided here by less than one percentage point, with Donald Trump winning by a narrow margin in 2016 and losing by the same margin in 2020.

“Everybody needs to be prepared for all-out war, as always,” said Stephen Thompson, a longtime Republican strategist.

To participate in Wednesday’s debate, the Republican National Committee required candidates to meet donor and voting limits and sign a pledge to support the VAIP candidate in the general election. Trump, who faces criminal charges in four separate cases, says he will not attend.

The governor of Florida is among those expected to be present on the dais. Ron DeSantis, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, Former Vice President Mike Pence, Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota. Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Michigan businessman Perry Johnson also say they met the requirements to hold the platform. The official roster is still coming because applicants have until Monday night to provide proof to the RNC that they qualify.

Early GOP primary voters will consider nominations in less than five months when Iowa holds its caucuses on Jan. 15, followed by other early states in February. The final candidate is expected to face President Joe Biden in November.

Wisconsin will be one of the biggest races in the general election. It’s a difference that accounts for declining but often fluctuating numbers as former swing states like Ohio and Florida become more reliably Republican and Virginia and Colorado become more Democrat. This makes Wisconsin, along with Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada, among the most competitive states that could decide the presidency.

In a sign of Wisconsin’s importance, Biden traveled to Milwaukee last week to talk about his work creating manufacturing jobs. On Sunday, his campaign announced it is spending $25 million to run ads to debate Republicans in seven states, including Wisconsin. The campaign said the ad buy included the campaign’s first investment in Hispanic and Black media.

Wisconsin’s status as a top election target dates back more than 20 years.

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won Wisconsin by a mere 5,700 votes, or just 0.22% of the total vote. That makes Biden’s 2020 victory by a margin of about 21,000 votes, or 0.56%, look like a coup. Two other races – John Kerry’s 0.38% margin of victory in 2004 and Trump’s 0.77% margin of victory in 2016 – were also very close.

And there’s no sign that Wisconsin is becoming less divided.

Democrats have managed to make inroads into Milwaukee’s once-conservative suburbs, which have seen GOP support decline in the Trump era. Democrats also took advantage of the population advantage in Dane County, home to the liberal capital of Madison and the University of Wisconsin.

Democratic movements were able to help offset Republican gains made in rural areas during the Trump era.

“Wisconsin has exactly the right mix of urban, suburban and rural populations needed to maintain a competitive position,” said Anthony Chergowski, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “It all adds up to a highly politically competitive state, but a state that doesn’t look the same as it did 10, 20 or 30 years ago.”

Democratic US Representative Mark Pocon, whose district includes Madison, said Republicans chose Wisconsin to be the first state to launch their early voting effort, adopting a strategy long used by Democrats but which Trump and other GOP leaders have rejected. People have rejected. And they falsely claimed that it was full of fraud. Trump is now also encouraging early voting.

Democrats in Wisconsin are feeling emboldened in the 2024 presidential election.

He has won 14 of the last 17 state elections, including Biden in 2020, Governor Tony Evers in 2022 and Janet Protasiewicz in April. His victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race took majority control of the court away from conservatives for the first time in 15 years, with key decisions on abortion access, redistricting and voting rules.

Republicans have won, including the re-election of US Senator Ron Johnson last year, winning a seat in Congress and increasing their majority in the state Senate and Assembly. But those gains were eclipsed by losses in the presidential, governor and Supreme Court races, Thompson said.

In addition to the presidential race, Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin is running for re-election to a third term next year. And both sides are stressing the possibility that the new, moderate-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court will mandate new legislative maps and force all sitting lawmakers to contest.

In the presidential race, DeSantis has shown strength this summer while struggling nationally.

A Marquette University Law School poll released on June 29 found 31% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents supported Trump, while DeSantis was at 30%. up to 41%.

Since the referendum, Trump has been indicted for a third and fourth time and DeSantis has shaken his campaign as he struggles to win Trump’s support nationally.

Wisconsin Republicans are more divided on Trump than the last two times. Trump’s refusal to admit defeat in 2020 and his repeated lying about the Wisconsin result and calls for unverified results have alienated him from many top Republicans.

Democrat Pocon said of Trump, “He’s like a warm beer.” “He is not exactly what we are looking for here in the state. I don’t think there’s much growth potential for him if he’s the Republican nominee.

DeSantis joined more than a dozen Republican state legislators at an event during a fundraiser for Wisconsin in July, including former governor Tommy Thompson, former lieutenant governor Rebecca Klefisch and 2022 Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels. The hosts also included Republican mega donor Dick. and Liz Uihlen, who donated to efforts to elect Trump in 2016 and 2020.

“Wisconsin Republicans are going to be thinking about one, is it someone who can beat Trump in the primary and two, can they beat Biden?” Thompson said. “Ultimately, the guys here just want to win. plain and simple.”


Associated Press writer Sarah Burnett in Chicago contributed to this report.

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