Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Will Biden’s DNC Snub Hurt Him In State?

Republicans gleeful. Is Biden's blowoff of Milwaukee convention Hillary-like or smartly strategic?

By - Aug 24th, 2020 12:53 pm
Joe Biden. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Joe Biden. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Republicans smell blood. 

Democratic candidate Joe Bidens decision not to come to Milwaukee for his nomination acceptance speech had Republicans gleeful. “He’s just completely mailing it in here,” Wisconsin GOP Chairman Andrew Hitt told the Journal Sentinel. ”He’s hiding from Wisconsin.”

Vice-president Mike Pence, in his visit to the small town of Darien in southeast Wisconsin on Thursday hammered the same theme: “I know the president was in Wisconsin on Monday, his son Eric was here yesterday and I’m here today,” Pence crowed. “And I do hear the Democrats were supposed to have their national convention in Wisconsin, but they couldn’t make it. Of course, that’s really nothing new.”

The “nothing new” line was a reference to Hillary Clinton, who famously failed to campaign in Wisconsin and then lost the state in 2016. Could that happen to Biden in 2020?  

Several veteran politicos I contacted discounted that theory arguing that (1) Clinton lost Wisconsin for many other reasons and (2) Not showing up during a pandemic makes this a very different situation. 

“In some ways, I think the lack of the visit [by Clinton] is over played in the Monday morning quarterbacking,” says Milwaukee PR exec and longtime Democratic politico Evan Zeppos. “More important, in my opinion, was [FBI director James] Comey’s late shenanigans to reopen and then re-close the email investigation.” 

Republican consultant and longtime Milwaukee PR man Craig Peterson notes that Clinton was a much weaker candidate than Biden: “In the 2008 WI primary with Obama she lost by 18 points, so Wisconsin voters were never that warm to her. Although she led Trump in the polls in 2016, her favorable ratings rarely got above 45 percent, while Biden is consistently between 48 and 51 percent.” 

Marquette Law School pollster Charles Franklin notes that the Democrats’ downplaying of Wisconsin in 2016 was about more than Hillary’s presence: “The Clinton campaign scaled back the effort here beyond her visits.” Zeppos echoes that point:” I think the Dem ground game, the digital campaign and the air war of 2020 appear to far surpass what was happening in 2016 in Wisconsin.” 

Indeed, there is abundant evidence of just how much Wisconsin was neglected in 2016. The Trump campaign spent about $7 million on campaign ads in Wisconsin versus about $3 million by the Clinton campaign, as analysis by Ad Age found.

And Democrats held just five campaign events in the state in 2016, versus nine by the Republicans, a national analysis shows. By contrast Democrats held 36 campaign events in Florida and 24 in North Carolina, both states Trump would carry.

It’s hard at this point to remember where things stood back in 2016: Every poll of Wisconsin showed Hillary ahead and Democrats saw a chance to extend her expected win (she did ultimately carry the popular vote by three million votes) into red states like Arizona (where she spent 4.5 times more on campaign ads than Trump) and Texas (where she spent 3.5 times more in campaign ads). 

Clearly the Biden campaign and Democratic Party aren’t making the same mistake in 2020. They have identified Wisconsin as perhaps the most important state in the race. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used a Zoom call with Wisconsin Democrats Thursday to make that clear, as Wisconsin Public Radio reported. “No pressure,” Pelosi said casually. “It’s all riding on Wisconsin.”

Indeed, Trump could lose Michigan and Pennsylvania and still win in 2020, if he carries Wisconsin, as Urban Milwaukee has reported. 

Wisconsin’s importance is made clear by the Wesleyan Media Project’s analysis of spending by both campaigns: three of the top 12 media markets for presidential campaign spending are in Wisconsin: Green Bay (ranked second), La Crosse (eighth) and Milwaukee (twelfth). Biden began at a spending disadvantage back in April in many of the top media markets, but since July has spent more than Trump in those three Wisconsin cities, and more in Michigan cities like Detroit, Grand Rapids and Traverse City.

NBC has reported that the Trump campaign has all but dropped out of Michigan, nearly eliminating its campaign spending. Meanwhile some of the biggest campaign spending is in states that lean Republican and Trump won in 2016: Florida (where poll averaging by Real Clear Politics show Biden ahead by 5 points), Arizona (Biden up by 2 points) and North Carolina (Trump up by 0.6 percent).

In short, Trump is playing defense in states he might have been expected to win.

The fact that Biden is spending pretty heavily in once reliably red states like Arizona and Texas, looks a bit like what Clinton did in 2016, except that Biden is not neglecting Wisconsin: he is spending heavily there and in Michigan and Pennsylvania. 

As to his decision to blow off Milwaukee and have both him and Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris give their acceptance speech in Wilmington, Delaware, Franklin notes that this was very different than 2016. “Clinton’s was a choice to devote her time elsewhere. Biden is deciding how to campaign in a pandemic.” 

Had Biden decided to appear in Milwaukee and then gotten infected with COVID-19, this would have been condemned as a horrifyingly dumb decision, buttressing Trump’s claim that his challenger is too old to serve as president. 

Ultimately, Biden’s decision not to fly to Milwaukee was part of his campaign message, about the need for social distancing and wearing a mask. If Biden decides on no public events for his campaign, while Trump continues to make public appearances, how will that play? 

“If Biden chooses to go all remote/video then he needs to be seen as prudent, not pusillanimous,” Franklin notes. “Likewise Trump’s continuation of public events might be seen as brave or foolish.”

And how voters view this difference could decide the election, in both Wisconsin and nationally. 

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More about the 2020 General Election

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

10 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Will Biden’s DNC Snub Hurt Him In State?”

  1. George Wagner says:

    I don’t think Biden’s not attending the pseudo convention in Milwaukee will mean much. What would be nice to see is Biden suggesting that the 2024 Democratic Party Convention be held here. Now that could make a difference.

  2. Swblackwood says:

    I think you meant to say FBI Director Comey. Also Clinton ghastly a scheduled rally in Green Bay when the Orlando shooting occurred.

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    Thanks, Steve, right about Conmey, fixed error.

  4. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Biden did not snub Milwaukee. He campaigned from his home to promote the “safer at home” theme. It is stupid for Trump and Pence to say that Joe is ignoring WI. It is stupid for Trump and Pence to be flying all over the country to rally their intransigent base at the risk of their health.

    George Wagner makes a good point. A sincere suggestion by Biden that the 2024 convention should be held in Milwaukee could make a difference for Democrats in particular in Milwaukee and for fair minded Democrats all over our nation. It could even possibly tug at the heart strings of some Republicans who still have heart strings. L. Graham, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker clearly had their heart strings torn out by Trump. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, still appears to have a heart – even as it looks like Trump tore him a new elsewhere ..

  5. Janet Holzhauer says:

    I object to using a term like “blowoff” . As we all try to make good decisions and model approaches that advance consensus and not Trumpism, I was very disappointed to read this.

  6. julia o'connor says:

    i must have been one of the four people who saw the trump folks’ “where’s joe?” billboard downtown. it had such an effect on me I sent the biden campaign a check.

  7. says:

    Firstly, Biden and Harris must come to WI sometime in the next months to shut off the Trump charge. Secondly, I like the idea of his suggesting the next convention here. Why not?

  8. D'nardo Colucci says:

    Biden should have explained his decision to not come to Milwaukee during his acceptance speech and showed some sympathy for all our lost work. He didn’t. What’s more Kamala Harris went to Delaware to be there in person. What’s more-more, there was a big celebration shown across the nation – except in Milwaukee. I blame the WI democrats for the last one.

    Biden didn’t lose my vote. But I think what Biden lost was winning over those on the fence. Why would they vote fur someone who doesn’t care about our state?

  9. Thomas Martinsen says:

    There was no need for Biden to explain why he did not travel to our state during the convention. it was obvious that he did not travel here because travel and congregations with large #s of people in these times are potentially perilous to the health and safety of all involved in these endeavors.

    Kamala (one person + staff) likely flew on a private jet to Delaware to meet with Joe and a select group to be with Joe on the occasion of his nomination. At minimal risk to health and safety, this meeting met the requirements of the event.

    It is plausible that people have died as a consequence of attending large scale rallies for Trump. Herman Cain, for example, died from Covid 19 shortly after attending a Trump rally in Tulsa.

    The DNC wisely held a virtual convention this year. Joe Biden has wisely campaigned mostly virtually. In perilous times, wisdom trumps drama – especially as Donald Trump routinely favors drama over safety. . .

  10. Mark Nicolini says:

    Personally I was very disappointed that Biden and his handlers couldn’t figure out how to make a safe one night visit to Milwaukee to accept the nomination or make a speech.

    Certainly I’ll vote for Biden. But his absence struck me as ungracious and lacking in empathy. Milwaukee went to amazing lengths to try to make this convention work. I think an appearance would have been an appropriate way to demonstrate his appreciation.

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