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Democrats see new maps as major turnout booster in Wisconsin

Source: Drake White-Bergey / Wisconsin Watch

Democrats see new maps as major turnout booster in Wisconsin

Democrats aren’t hiding the fact that their secret weapon this election cycle was just signed into law by Gov. Tony Evers.

February 26, 2024 2:00 PM CDT

By: Jack Kelly / Wisconsin Watch

As Wisconsin braces for another year of TV ads, door knockers and campaign mailers, Democrats aren’t hiding the fact that their secret weapon this election cycle was just signed into law by Gov. Tony Evers.

“I have no question that fair maps and an end to gerrymandering help both having some balance and voters’ voices reflected at the state legislative level, but help the statewide races,” U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who is seeking a third term, told Wisconsin Watch in an interview last week.

Last week, Evers approved Republican-passed legislative boundaries, unwinding a gerrymander that guaranteed GOP majorities in the Legislature over the past decade. Evers drew the maps as part of a legal challenge to the old districts.

The prospect of winning control of at least one chamber of the Legislature — and potential Democratic policy wins like Medicaid expansion or marijuana legalization that come with it — could have Democratic voters out in droves in November.

The effects of massive Democratic turnout could reach beyond the statehouse in Madison. It could be determinative in both the presidential election and U.S. Senate race — two contests that will likely be decided by which party better energizes its supporters.

The new districts will help Democrats recruit candidates “who think it’s not an impossible task to run for office and try to make a difference,” Baldwin said. And critically, she added, “candidates at the local level do doors; they go door to door.”

“There’s parts of Wisconsin where they haven’t seen a Democratic candidate for state Assembly or state Senate knock on their door in years since we first got the gerrymandered maps,” Baldwin said. “I think it’s pretty important and it will have a real effect on those of us who are running statewide to have those conversations at the doors.”

Brian Schimming, chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said new legislative districts don’t necessarily translate to enthusiasm at the local level.

“From statewide races to small town politics, voters will vote with their wallets this November and that means Republican victories,” he said in a statement.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks in his office at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 6, 2023. (Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)

Between 2012 and 2020, the margin in presidential races has shifted toward Republicans in all but five Wisconsin counties, according to a Wisconsin Watch analysis. Democratic President Joe Biden still won 14 counties in 2020, but in many instances it was by a smaller margin than former President Barack Obama won them in 2012.

The five counties that have moved toward Democrats are Dane, Milwaukee, Washington, Waukesha and Ozaukee — a shift that illustrates Democrats’ continued strength in Wisconsin’s major cities and growing support in suburban communities.

The new districts present opportunities for Democrats to pick up seats in both the Assembly and state Senate in parts of Wisconsin that had been mostly represented by Republicans under the previous maps. For example, in southwestern Wisconsin, the new districts could help Democrats win additional seats in both chambers, according to an analysis from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Those districts encompass parts of Crawford, Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, Richland and Vernon counties. All but five of those counties backed former President Donald Trump in 2020. But now, according to Baldwin, more competitive legislative races in these parts of the state could help Democrats pick up votes up and down the ballot, especially if candidates are able to communicate how Democrats are getting things done for voters.

“Our voters are very much results-oriented, and when I’m spending time in western Wisconsin counties, we’re talking about the issues that matter to folks at the local level,” Baldwin said, noting the importance of agriculture and the dairy industry to the part of the state.

“Showing up matters, but results matter, too,” Baldwin added.

State party fundraising is also a factor. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin has outraised its Republican counterpart in recent years — contributing to Democratic victories in 15 of the 18 most recent statewide elections. As of Feb. 5, DPW had $2 million in the bank, according to a filing from earlier this month. RPW did not file a report for the same time period because it did not spend on anything affecting candidates in the spring primary, a party spokesperson told Wisconsin Watch.

The fundraising advantage helps Democrats maintain an edge when it comes to professional organizing staff, with full-time Democratic Party of Wisconsin field organizers stationed throughout Wisconsin.

Joe Oslund, DPW’s communications director, told Wisconsin Watch the state party is “continuing to build on the more than 200 neighborhood teams working across the state” as 2024 kicks off.

“We’ll also be expanding our hiring of organizers and investing in cutting edge relational organizing infrastructure, which empowers volunteers to reach out to their own networks to have meaningful conversations about voting,” he said. “Finally, we’ll be working closely with our Assembly and Senate leadership to recruit great candidates and build campaign infrastructures needed to compete in dozens of newly competitive districts.”

The Republican Party of Wisconsin mostly relies on volunteers. A spokesperson for RPW declined to comment on how the party is preparing for grassroots organizing this cycle.

What we’re watching this week

Tuesday

⚖️ The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety will vote during an executive session at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Capitol Room 411S on 16 bills, including a package of legislation aimed at improving security for judges. Watch on Wisconsin Eye.

Wednesday

☘️ The Senate Committee on Economic Development and Technical Colleges will vote during an executive session at 10 a.m. Wednesday in 306S on legislation that would require Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to create the Wisconsin-Ireland Trade Commission.

Thursday

🫏 Senate Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, speaks at a WisPolitics.com luncheon at noon at the Madison Club.

This article first appeared on Wisconsin Watch and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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