Categories: Elections

Biden’s Wisconsin Win Fueled by Historic Shift in Conservative-Leaning ‘WOW’ Counties

In Ozaukee County, Biden earned an unprecedented 43.1% of the vote, the best showing for a Democrat since Harry Truman in 1948.

It was not unexpected for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to outperform Hillary Clinton’s 2016 numbers in the suburban “WOW” counties—Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington—surrounding Milwaukee, but few could have predicted how much stronger his performance would end up being in the 2020 presidential election.

The former vice president pulled numbers in Ozaukee County not seen by a Democratic presidential candidate in generations; it had been 11 presidential elections since a Democrat got as high a vote share in Waukesha County as Biden; and not since former President Barack Obama’s first campaign had Washington County doled out as many votes for a Democrat.

Biden did not win any of the WOW counties, and no one was under any illusion he could pull off a major upset in these Republican strongholds, but his strong performance along with a couple state Assembly district flips paints a picture of gradually wavering support for Republican candidates as seen in suburbs across the country.

With 99% of precincts reporting in Ozaukee County, Biden earned an unprecedented 43.1% of the vote, according to unofficial results as reported by Reuters. That was an improvement of 6 points over Clinton in 2016 and the best showing for a Democrat since Harry Truman in 1948.

Last week, Deb Dassow, chair of the Ozaukee County Democratic Party, told UpNorthNews she would have been happy if Biden had gotten 38% of the vote, a 1-point improvement over Clinton. The county already had the largest swing toward Democrats in the state in the 2018 midterm elections, and it appears it had the largest swing for this election, too.

The absence of multiple third-party candidates, who in 2016 collectively siphoned about 5% of the state’s vote, appears to have played a part in Biden’s success in the WOW counties. This year, only Libertarian Jo Jorgensen captured a statistically significant share of the vote—1.2% statewide. 

Trump only performed 1.9% worse in Ozaukee County than in 2016, garnering 55.2% of the vote versus 57.1%. 

In Waukesha County, the state’s third most-populous, Biden got 38.8% of the vote, a 5-point increase over Clinton. It was a Democratic presidential candidate’s best turnout in Waukesha County since Jimmy Carter in 1976. As with Ozaukee, Trump’s votes saw a relatively small dropoff from 61.1% to 59.6%.

The story was the same in Washington County, where Trump received 68.3% of the votes—slightly better than his 2016 total of 67.9%. Third-party candidates took home about 4.3% of the 2016 Washington County vote, while Clinton had just 27.4%. Biden built on that with a 3-point boost, reaching 30.2%, a level not seen since Obama’s first campaign.

At a state politics level, Democrats had success in Waukesha and Ozaukee counties as they flipped two Assembly seats, held on to a seat in a close race, and showed the potential to flip another seat in the coming years. 

Deb Andraca, a substitute teacher and gun safety activist, unseated Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) in the 23rd Assembly District, which includes the affluent North Shore Milwaukee County communities of Whitefish Bay and Fox Point and runs north along the eastern side of Ozaukee County. Andraca garnered 51.6% of the vote.

Deb Dassow, chairwoman of the Ozaukee County Democratic Party, gives a tour of the party’s first-ever field office several days before Election Day in downtown Grafton. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

In the adjacent 24th Assembly District, which encompasses some northern Milwaukee County communities like Glendale and winds northwest through Ozaukee County and into Washington County, Democrat Emily Siegrist came close to beating Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown). She received 48.5% of the votes, losing by a 3-point margin that could easily tighten in future elections as suburban demographics continue to change.

Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa), the most vulnerable Democrat in the Assembly, unexpectedly won re-election in the 14th Assembly District by an 8-point margin with 54% of the vote, a massive improvement on her slim 0.4% victory in 2018. The district includes parts of western Milwaukee County and eastern Waukesha County.

The neighboring 13th Assembly District, which also includes parts of western Milwaukee County and eastern Waukesha County, was the second of the Democrats’ pickups on Tuesday. Healthcare executive Sara Rodriguez earned 51% of the vote on her way to unseating Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield).

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