MADISON, Wis. (AP) — President Donald Trump looked for a repeat win Tuesday in battleground Wisconsin, while Joe Biden hoped that voters would return to supporting Democrats for president as they had for a generation before Trump’s narrow victory four years ago.
With the coronavirus pandemic rampaging across the state, more than 1 million people resorted to mail-in voting — ensuring that they could cast a ballot safely but raising the prospect that tallying all those ballots would take much longer than usual.
Congressional races were also on the ballot, and Democrats were intent on staving off a GOP supermajority in the Legislature that could strip the governor, Tony Evers, of any real veto power.
A look at key candidates, races, election mechanics and legal fights that shaped the campaign season:
Democrat Joe Biden is looking to take the state back from President Donald Trump after the president won it by less than 23,000 votes in 2016. Trump’s victory marked the first time a Republican had captured the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Coupled with his wins in the other “blue wall” states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, Wisconsin propelled him to the White House. Trump’s narrow margin from four years ago gave Democrats hope they could flip the state for Biden, and they mounted an intense get out-the-vote effort, especially in liberal areas that did not turn out strongly in 2016. Polls consistently showed Biden leading Trump as Democrats bashed the president for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
All eight of Wisconsin’s congressional seats are up on Tuesday, though just a handful were drawing close attention. Incumbent Democrat Ron Kind is trying to fend off Republican Derrick Van Orden for a 13th term in western Wisconsin. Republican state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald easily defeated Democrat Tom Palzewicz to win an open seat in southeastern Wisconsin’s heavily conservative 5th District. The seat came open after Republican James Sensenbrenner opted to retire. Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore handily defeated Republican Tim Rogers to retain her seat representing Milwaukee and its suburbs. Meanwhile, a northern Wisconsin seat had a rematch between Republican Rep. Tom Tiffany and Democrat Tricia Zunker. Tiffany beat Zunker in a special election in May to win what was then an open seat. Zunker is the first American Indian to run for a congressional seat in Wisconsin since 1992.
Thanks largely to favorable district boundaries they drew, Republicans have had a stranglehold on the state Senate and Assembly for the last decade, and that seems unlikely to change on Tuesday. They go into Election Day with an 18-13 edge in the Senate and a 63-34 advantage in the Assembly. Democrats’ main goal is preventing Republicans from gaining a two-thirds majority in both houses. That would enable the GOP to override any veto from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, allowing Republicans to advance their agenda at will. Democrats have handed nearly $2 million to their incumbents in a half-dozen swing districts in hopes of blunting the Republicans’ attack.
The pandemic remade how voters cast ballots in Wisconsin. Voters afraid of contracting the virus at the polls mailed in absentee ballots at an unprecedented rate. That raised concern that both the Postal Service and election officials would struggle to cope with the ballots, which must arrive at clerks’ offices on Election Day and which are more time-consuming to process than Election Day ballots. On the plus side, it appeared that clerks would not have the same struggle to find poll workers that they faced during the April primary, when so few voting sites could be staffed that Milwaukee voters had to endure long lines.
The run-up to the election was marked by plenty of court battles as Democrats and Republicans struggled for advantage. Democrats and allied groups went to court and won a nearly weeklong extended counting period for absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day. But a federal appeals court handed Republicans a win by striking that down. Trump’s persistent but baseless claims of fraud in mail-in voting led both sides to brace for potential legal challenges well beyond Election Day.