Grace Stolen, 20, a student at UW-Stout talks to John Rocco Calabrese about getting more deeply involved in politics
Grace Stolen, 20, a student at UW-Stout talks to John Rocco Calabrese about getting more deeply involved in politics

Finding New Voters Is the Only Sure Path to 2020 Victory

The political views of Republicans and Democrats have grown more polarized in recent years, but the two major political parties in Wisconsin have at least one common goal when it comes to the 2020 election: find new voters beyond their base. 

While the approach of trying to garner new voters is nothing new, leaders of both parties in Wisconsin said they plan to more actively seek them out this election cycle. Doing so could be key to winning the presidential race in Wisconsin, which many political experts view as perhaps the most important state in the U.S. in determining the winner of that contest.

“We know we need to organize effectively if we want to win in 2020,” said Bill Hogseth, chairman of the Democratic Party in Dunn County, viewed as a key political battleground this year. “And part of that involves attracting new voters.”

Republicans are seeking new voters too, said Bill Feehan, chairman of Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District Republican Party. Attracting new people to the polls could be necessary for President Donald Trump to carry Wisconsin, Feehan said, because the president’s often controversial actions and stances even alienate some in his own party. 

“Trump isn’t popular with Republicans in the suburbs, especially college-educated women,” Feehan said, noting Trump’s low support in some of the state’s suburban areas, such as Waukesha County, that traditionally have been Republican strongholds. 

Given that, Feehan said, and predictions by political experts that some who backed Trump in 2016 may not vote for him this year, part of the Republican strategy in Wisconsin centers on attracting new voters who approve of his job so far.

“The upside to President Trump being who he is, is he appeals to people who typically have felt left out,” Feehan said. “He has a populist message that is attracting new voters and volunteers to our party.”

Trump’s actions as president have helped motivate Wisconsin Democrats for the 2020 election as well, leaders of that party said. Members of county Democratic parties across Wisconsin said they have seen more volunteers and people registering to vote since Trump’s election.

Hogseth counts himself among those pushed into politics by Trump’s victory. Hogseth was previously involved politically, such as campaigning for presidential candidate Ralph Nader while in high school, but Trump’s election signaled a new level of personal commitment, he said.

“I woke up the day after that (2016) election and said ‘I have to do more,’ ” Hogseth said. He subsequently helped form the group Indivisible Chippewa Valley and became Dunn County Democratic Party chairman a year ago.      

Hogseth isn’t alone, evidenced by the nearly 100 people who attended a 2020 election workshop in Menomonie Saturday intended to mobilize the Democratic vote in Dunn County this election cycle. Many event attendees said attracting and motivating more Democrats and progressives will be necessary to defeat Trump. 

Noah Reif, northeastern organizer for Citizen Action Wisconsin in Green Bay, agrees that Democrats and progressives must continue to attract more new voters, especially in traditionally underrepresented communities, if they want to defeat Trump and make inroads on state legislative races. 

“We can’t do things the same way we have always done then,” Reif said. “We have to reach out to more people of color, more women, more people who have not been included before. We have to show them that we have shared values.”

Wisconsin voters backed Democratic President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, then Trump took the state by 22,000 votes out of about three million cast in 2016. However, last year Democrats won all five state constitutional offices, including Tony Evers’ defeat of incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, which served as a wake-up call to Republicans they need to organize more effectively and work harder, Feehan said.

Republicans bounced back statewide last spring with Brian Hagedorn’s surprise victory over Lisa Neubauer in the race for state Supreme Court. To continue that momentum, Feehan said, Republicans are targeting potential voters in rural Wisconsin to muster further party support.

“We want higher votes in cities too,” he said, “but we know realistically that more potential new voters for us will be in rural areas.”

Democrats acknowledged that rural Wisconsin typically votes Republican, but they plan to seek votes in those areas too, they said. For example, Eau Claire County Democrats are knocking doors in areas surrounding the city of Eau Claire looking for potential voters.

“We know a lot of people in rural areas feel left out,” said Nancy Hetzel, canvas coordinator for the county Democratic Party. “We’re spending time with them, having conversations, and hopefully that makes a difference.”