Will Biden’s DNC Snub Hurt Him In State?
Republicans gleeful. Is Biden's blowoff of Milwaukee convention Hillary-like or smartly strategic?
Republicans smell blood.
Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s 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.”
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.
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.”
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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