MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin voters supported a Democratic candidate for the last seven presidential elections — then Donald Trump showed up.
Trump narrowly won Wisconsin by 0.77% over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrats are now looking to take back a state they once considered part of the “blue wall.”
Wisconsin, which holds 10 votes in the Electoral College, is set to be one of the most important states in the 2020 presidential election between President Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. FiveThirtyEight says Wisconsin has the third highest chance of being the “tipping-point state,” according to its calculation of states most likely to swing the election.
Former Vice President Biden holds a 6.6% polling lead over Trump in the state, according to an average of polls taken in September compiled by RealClearPolitics. Polls in Wisconsin were much closer in March, but have since moved in favor of Biden in the months following the coronavirus pandemic.
Naomi Brown, a 31-year-old line cook from the Milwaukee suburb Wauwatosa, which historically has voted for both parties but leans Democratic, was laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic. Where candidates stand on economic issues like boosting wages could sway her vote, she says.
“Health care and income inequality are my two biggest issues,” she told MarketWatch. “I was a line cook before I was unemployed due to the coronavirus and made almost twice as much money on unemployment with the $600 bonus than I did as a line cook.”
Brown is like over 20 millions Americans who lost their jobs in months after the coronavirus pandemic. Many are waiting on an extension of benefits or other relief from Congress, which recently reached an impasse on the size of the package.
“Working 40 hours a week at $11 dollars an hour, like I have a daughter. And I’m in the middle of a divorce. I’m barely surviving. It’s ridiculous,” she said.
Biden has proposed a federal minimum wage increase to $15 per hour and Trump has stated that the minimum wage should increase, but thresholds should be decided by the states.
Brown says she is generally interested in “leftist policies,” but doesnt believe Biden has them.
President Trump’s approval rating has remained steady in the 40% range, and while that is low relative to recent incumbent presidents seeking reelection, voters still have a high opinion of Trump’s handling of the economy. Recent polls show that roughly half of all voters approve of the president’s handling of the economy.
But not all voters subscribe to the traditional moniker “the economy, stupid” when it comes to who they support for president. Kurtis Leverentz, a 52-year-old registered Independent who lives in Oak Creek, another Milwaukee suburb that is somewhat liberal relative to the rest of the state, says his motivations are more straightforward.
“I’m sick of hearing about the economy, I’m sick of hearing about jobs, I’m sick of hearing about health care,” Leverentz told MarketWatch. “I judge my vote on character.”
Leverentz, who didn’t vote in the last presidential election, plans on voting for Joe Biden this November. “I don’t know much about Joe, but I know the guy (Trump) running the show now is doing a horrible job.”
Leverentz explained that “truth and accountability” are the main reasons for his support for Biden, saying it’s more important for him that a president set a good example for the next generation.
“One thing I have yet to ever see is any politician mentioning the greater good for the kids growing up in the world. It’s almost a shame to be an American nowadays because where things are headed.”
An average of polls from the last month show that just 27.9% of Americans think the country is going in the right direction, while 65.9% think the U.S. is headed down the wrong track.
Biden has run much of his presidential campaign on his character, even creating a television ad titled “Character.”
“I think if Joe Biden gets in we are all doomed,” Al Smith, a 59-year-old registered Republican, told MarketWatch. “Especially with the second amendment rights he wants to take, he wants to control everybody.”
Joe Biden frequently claims to have “taken on” the National Rifle Association during speeches and rallies, citing a pair of bills he worked on as a member of the Senate which include a background check system bill in 1993, and a 1994 ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
President Trump has been an outspoken advocate of gun rights since taking office, even speaking at the NRA convention in 2019.
Smith, a transplant from New Jersey who now lives in Oak Creek, was reading David Horowitz’s book BLITZ: Trump Will Smash the Left and Win moments before his interview with MarketWatch.
Smith says he voted for Trump in 2016 and plans to again in November, citing his belief that Biden is seeking too much control.
“He wants to tell everybody to wear a frickin mask and tell everybody what to do,” Smith told MarketWatch.
Biden’s campaign has proposed a nationwide mask mandate if elected president, but it’s unclear if he has the legal authority to do so.
“All the Democratic cities are the ones with the most crimes and the most poverty,” Smith said. “Good luck with that.”