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Southeastern Wisconsin is election battleground within a battleground

Source: Jeffrey Phelps for Wisconsin Watch

Southeastern Wisconsin is election battleground within a battleground

The region is home to some of the state’s most populous communities, including four of its 10 largest counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine and Kenosha.

June 17, 2024 11:51 AM CDT

By: Jack Kelly / Wisconsin Watch

As both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump zero in on Wisconsin ahead of November’s presidential election, a sort of battleground within a battleground has emerged: southeastern Wisconsin.

Biden and Trump have frequented the region — both in 2024 and during their respective time in the White House. So far this year, Biden has held events in Milwaukee and Mount Pleasant, where he announced that a $3.3 billion Microsoft data center would be built. Trump has campaigned in Waukesha and will be in the area once again with a campaign stop in Racine on Tuesday.

Democrats and Republicans alike agree the region could be determinative in awarding Wisconsin’s 10 Electoral College votes in November.

“This election in Wisconsin runs through Milwaukee County and through southeastern Wisconsin,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, a Democrat and Biden ally, told Wisconsin Watch in an interview.

Large crowd watches and cheers Joe Biden, who is on a stage in the background flanked by two American flags.
President Joe Biden makes remarks at Gateway Technical College on May 8, 2024, in Sturtevant, Wis. (Jeffrey Phelps for Wisconsin Watch)

The region is home to some of the state’s most populous communities, including four of its 10 largest counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine and Kenosha, according to Wisconsin Department of Administration estimates.

The part of the state offers a unique combination of urban, suburban and rural communities, including a Democratic stronghold (Milwaukee County), a Republican bastion (Waukesha County) and purple counties (Racine and Kenosha). But while Milwaukee County is critical for Democrats, it’s also critical for Republicans: In 2020, it provided the second most votes to Trump of any Wisconsin county. Vice versa is true for Democrats, given that Waukesha County gave Biden over 100,000 votes, third most of any Wisconsin county.

The outcome of the race in Racine and Kenosha counties, which have closer to a 50/50 partisan breakdown (slightly favoring Republicans in recent years), could also influence the results of the 2024 race in Wisconsin, given the thin margins of victory in recent statewide races and the potential impacts of non-major party candidates like Robert Kennedy. 

The two counties were home to scores of manufacturing jobs in yesteryear — many of which have been lost elsewhere (though some still exist). That makes announcements like Biden’s Microsoft deal, which is expected to bring 2,000 union construction jobs to the area, potentially influential in an election year. Trump no doubt understood the stakes when in 2018 he came to Mount Pleasant to tout a major Foxconn investment, much of which has gone unrealized.

Prospects of greener financial pastures could persuade voters to back one candidate over the other, especially given that a third of Wisconsin residents say the economy is the issue most important in deciding their vote for president, according to a Marquette Law School poll from April.

Trump’s Tuesday visit to Racine offers the former president a chance to weather a challenging couple of weeks directly with Wisconsin voters. On May 30, a New York jury found the former president guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, the first time a former U.S. president has been convicted of a crime. 

Then, last week, Trump reportedly described Milwaukee as a “horrible city” during a meeting on Capitol Hill with U.S. House Republicans.Trump denied that he made the comment on social media over the weekend, but the former president last week told Fox News he was referring to crime and how elections are run in the city. He will officially accept the GOP presidential nomination next month at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee.

What will any or all of this action in southeastern Wisconsin mean for the race? Well, many recent polls have found the presidential race to be a dead heat in the state, so it might not be until Election Day that we find out.

What we’re watching this week


🎖️ The Thompson Center on Public Leadership will present David Obey and Thomas Petri with the 2023-2024 Tommy G. Thompson Distinguished Public Leadership Award at 10 a.m. The former U.S. representatives served a combined 78 years in Congress. Watch on Wisconsin Eye.

🐘 Former President Donald Trump will hold a presidential campaign rally at Racine Festival Park at 3 p.m.


💡 Public Service Commission chair Summer Strand will speak at a WisPolitics luncheon at noon at the Madison Club, 5 E. Wilson St., Madison. Watch on Wisconsin Eye.


🚰 The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources PFAS External Advisory Group meets at 11 a.m. Members of the public are invited to attend with limited participation. Sign up for the Zoom meeting here.

Should we be watching your civic engagement-related event? Let us know and we’ll consider including it in future editions of Forward. Send an email to statehouse@wisconsinwatch.org.

Forward is a look at the week in Wisconsin government and politics from the Wisconsin Watch statehouse team.

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

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