Democrats, Republicans making push for suburban votes in 2020

Leave Milwaukee and head north or west – you’ll find yourself in red territory.

The block of counties – Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha – hugging the most populous in the state is one of the most reliable spots in the state for Republicans.

The suburbs outside Milwaukee haven’t voted for a Democrat in more than 50 years. Waukesha County GOP chair Terry Dittrich said he expects the reliability to continue in 2020.

“Unless something really catastrophic were to happen here in the county, I believe we’re going to win the county,” he said.

Dittrich said the issues people there care about, such as law and order, align with President Donald Trump, enough for them to choose him again.

In Washington County Democrat chair Stephen Roberts said he knows at least a dozen people who have changed their mind.

“They want a Biden/Harris sign, and as we converse a little bit they kind of sheepishly say to me, ‘I voted for Trump last time, and I will never think about doing that again,’” Roberts said.

He doesn’t think it will be enough to flip these reliably red counties, and political scientists don’t necessarily think so either. But they’re noticing a similar change.

“This is a nationwide shift,” said Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette Law School Poll. “It’s been a little slow coming to Wisconsin, and we still have more Republican rather than purple suburbs, but they’re not as solidly Republican as they were 6 to 10 years ago.”

That’s making Democrats give Republicans a run for their votes — the Biden team campaigning in Waukesha, though maybe not to win.

“If you’re going to lose a region, lose it by 15 points instead of losing it by 20 points, that’s a worthwhile tradeoff to make in a statewide election where it doesn’t really matter where your vote comes from, it just matters what the totals for each side are,” Franklin said.

That’s Roberts’ logic too.

“If we increase our vote totals by you know three, 4,000, 8,000 votes, we’re doing a good job,” he said.

He said membership for the Washington County Democrats has gone up 60% this year — not enough to flip the county, but maybe enough to have an impact.

“It would be a miracle if Washington County as a whole voted for Joe Biden,” Roberts said. “My more realistic goal is that we increase the percentage and do our share to turn the state blue.”

He’s vying to make up a share of the 22,000 votes that handed Wisconsin to Trump in 2016, but Republicans are working on their margins too – hoping big wins here will detract from Milwaukee and Dane counties.

Dittrich thinks they can do it.

“What I see out there is I think we’re going to put up a big number,” he said. “And Waukesha, frankly speaking, needs to put up a big number to help the Republican side win the entire state.”