State politicians and operatives from both major parties today at a WisPolitics.com event agreed base turnout will be a key factor in winning Wisconsin this fall.
Dem U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan and former GOP Gov. Scott Walker, alongside Dem strategist Tanya Bjork and National Republican Senatorial Committee Political Director Betsy Ankney over the noon hour said both the 2016 and 2018 elections largely came down to the motivation — or lack thereof — of base voters.
Walker lost his bid for a third term in 2018 to now Dem Gov. Tony Evers by slightly more than 1 percentage point. He said failure to gain a third term was at least in part because Republicans “took it for granted” that President Trump was in the White House and the economy at the time was setting record highs.
“Two years ago people took it for granted,” he said. “They said ‘Hey, the economy has never been better. More people are working than ever before. Taxes are down and schools are doing great.’ A lot of people took it for granted, and I don’t think anybody on the left or the right will take it for granted this time.”
Pocan largely echoed Walker’s beliefs, saying 2016 Dem presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lost the state to Trump because some 200,000 fewer Dem voters turned out than in the previous presidential election.
He said the best way to boost Dem turnout would be to highlight Dem priorities like expanding affordable healthcare and to continue slamming the president’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, while Pocan accused the Trump administration of trying to limit mail-in ballots and discourage faith in the electoral system, Walker defended the president by saying the attacks are less about the truth and more “about creating chaos to somehow stoke the base.”
Walker said some of the photos of mail drop boxes stacked away and not in use were in fact from earlier administrations and not Trump’s doing. Pocan agreed some of the photos weren’t the work of the Trump administration, but he added that some were and he was looking forward to an upcoming House Oversight Committee hearing with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
Ankney, who also managed GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s reelection campaign, said one of the keys to boosting turnout is to bring a coordinated effort from all candidates of the same party.
She pointed out how Johnson in 2016 overall did better than Trump, even though they both won the state. But Trump, she said, did better in the rural regions, and both of their appeals to different parts of the electorate managed to boost one another on election night.
“You all know that it takes time and effort to win those voters,” she said, referring to rural Wisconsinites living in small towns. “You have to be in those towns talking to people, meeting with people, doing interviews with local newspapers. That’s what gets those voters to your side, and Trump did that in 2016 and Hillary Clinton did not.”
Ankney added that she didn’t believe now Dem candidate Joe Biden would make a real impact on rural voters either, since he has so far not visited the state out of COVID-19 safety concerns.
Bjork, however, said she believed suburban women would play a “particularly important” role in this year’s election. She said her pitch to them would be that “Joe Biden has a plan and Donald Trump does not” when it comes to addressing the ongoing pandemic.
She said she couldn’t think of any other subject that has impacted everyone’s lives more than the coronavirus, and that Dems should remind voters — especially suburban women — that “it didn’t have to be this way.”