2020 Democratic Candidates Look To Reverse 2016 Loss In Wisconsin Democrats were stunned to lose the state to Donald Trump in 2016. This time around, presidential candidates are treating the previously blue state like a battleground.
NPR logo

2020 Democrats Head To Wisconsin Early, Looking To Reverse 2016 Stumble

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/699114171/700289863" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
2020 Democrats Head To Wisconsin Early, Looking To Reverse 2016 Stumble

2020 Democrats Head To Wisconsin Early, Looking To Reverse 2016 Stumble

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/699114171/700289863" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is the latest to join the race for president. That brings the total number of Democratic candidates to 14. They are logging hours in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina - also, Wisconsin, where Democrats are trying to rewrite their 2016 history. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Here's something Democrats thought they knew during the last presidential campaign - Wisconsin was safe. They had pretty good reason to feel that way. After all, the last Republican to carry the state was Ronald Reagan in '84. And in 2016, the polls in the state pointed to that trend continuing. Charles Franklin is the director of polling at the Marquette University Law School.

CHARLES FRANKLIN: My poll and all 33 other polls in the state showed Clinton leading by an average of about six points.

GONYEA: Still, Donald Trump's campaign treated Wisconsin like a hotly contested battleground.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In just one week, we are going to win the great state of Wisconsin.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And we are going to win back the White House. It's going to happen, folks.

GONYEA: This is in the city of Eau Claire, in the rural, western part of the state. In the campaign's final 100 days, candidate Trump held five rallies in Wisconsin. In that same period, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton held none, zero, leaving the campaigning there to surrogates. There are certainly a lot of factors in the end result, but pollster Charles Franklin says two things happened.

FRANKLIN: The west of the state had gone for Obama twice and slipped to Trump. That's the rural areas of the state. Not a huge part of the population, but it's a significant one.

GONYEA: And he says Democrats were hurt by lower turnout than expected in the biggest urban area, Milwaukee. Trump won the state by less than 1 percent. It was part of a trio of upsets in previously blue states that included Michigan and Pennsylvania, giving him the margin he needed to win the White House.

Now to 2020. The first nominating contests are eleven months away. Wisconsin's primary isn't until April of next year. But already, the candidates are coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY KLOBUCHAR: I am just so pleased to be in Wisconsin.

GONYEA: That's Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar. She kicked off her very first presidential campaign trip in Eau Claire. The choice was practical. Wisconsin borders club Klobuchar's home state, Minnesota, and Iowa is right next door. And it was symbolic, sending a message that a traditionally blue battleground won't be ignored this time, and all the better if a nominee has appeal there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KLOBUCHAR: I do not come from money. My mom was a teacher. My dad was a newspaperman. My grandpa was an iron ore miner. And those relatives in Wisconsin, during the Depression, my grandpa worked in a pie shop.

GONYEA: Klobuchar won't have the state to herself. Another potential competitor dropped in recently, former congressman Beto O'Rourke.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BETO O'ROURKE: Wisconsin, perhaps like other parts of the country, perhaps even including where I'm from, in far West Texas, too often is overlooked. The conversation does not begin until too late.

GONYEA: That's O'Rourke speaking at a technical college in Milwaukee. Wisconsin Democratic Party chairperson Martha Laning says she's been hearing from other candidates about early visits to the state, as well.

MARTHA LANING: It sends a message to the whole nation that that president knows what needs to be done to get elected, and they're not going to take anything for granted and they're stopping by Wisconsin right now.

GONYEA: But she stresses that candidate visits are only part of it. Yes, there are lessons from Hillary Clinton's absence last time, but Laning says the state party also needs to be better at reaching voters in every part of the state - urban and rural, blue and red. She says they did that in last year's midterms, and it was a strong Democratic year in Wisconsin, including defeating Republican Governor Scott Walker.

Laning adds, if you pick up an unexpected vote here, or a vote there, it can make the difference in another razor-thin contest - just ask President Trump. Don Gonyea, NPR News.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.