There are four reasons why Hillary lost Wisconsin: she didn’t show up, Russ Feingold pulled her numbers down, the Republican Party was strong, and grassroots conservatives like Dan Feyen never gave up.
Woody Allen once said: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Hillary Clinton did not visit Wisconsin, after she lost the April 5 primary to Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, admitted that they should have paid more attention to Michigan and Wisconsin. Couldawouldashoulda.
Another reason was that Russ Feingold alienated people. After Senator Feingold lost to Ron Johnson in 2010, he went to California to teach at Stanford University. He was also making lots of money in Washington and only came back to Wisconsin to run for office.
This was a far cry from the Russ Feingold of 1992. In the State Senate, it was said Russ Feingold wouldn’t even accept a cup of coffee from a lobbyist. In 2011, he set up Progressives United PAC and drew a salary from it. Tens of thousands of dollars from that PAC were also spent to buy his book.
I believe this hurt Feingold’s image as a liberal reformer. In the U.S. Senate, Feingold was seen as an outsider. He was the lone vote in 2001 against the Patriot Act, for example. Outside of the office, he looked like a phony, which couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Hillary Clinton.
In 2004, Russ Feingold received 1,632,697 votes. This helped John Kerry (1,489,504) narrowly defeat President Bush (1,478,120) by just more than 11,000 votes. In 2016, the year of outsiders, Hillary Clinton could not inspire Democrats to come out the way they did for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. Worse, Feingold provided her with no cushion. He won only 1,380,335 votes last November 8 or 252,362 fewer votes than in 2004.
Donald Trump won Wisconsin by only 22,748 votes. In Milwaukee County, Hillary Clinton received only 288,822 votes. If she could have done as well as John Kerry in 2004 (297,653 votes), she would have cut Trump’s lead in half. If she had done as well as Barack Obama in 2008 (319,819) or 2012 (332,438 votes), she would have won the state.
Russ Feingold’s 1,380,335 vote total last year was about 2,000 votes less than Hillary Clinton (1,382,536 votes). What happened? In 2004, Russ Feingold received more votes than President Obama (1,620,985 votes) and Senator Tammy Baldwin (1,547,104 votes) did in 2012. Feingold 2004 numbers were almost as good as what Barack Obama won in 2008 (1,697,211 votes).
Feingold’s performance cannot be explained by a simple drop in just Milwaukee County. Feingold won 312,914 votes there in 2004 but only 276,556 in 2016. Milwaukee County explains 36,358 votes of the 252,362 fewer votes he received from 2004.
With the exception of Dane County (Madison) and Rock County, Clinton outperformed Feingold in all of the other major population counties (Milwaukee, Winnebago, Washington, Waukesha, Racine, Brown, and Outagamie).
Feingold and Clinton clearly had problems in some of the western parts of the state, but the main problem was that many Democrats were demoralized and Republicans were able come together, especially in Green Bay and the Fox River Valley.
No election shows this better than State Senate candidate Dan Feyen’s. The 18th Wisconsin Senate District has been the most competitive seat over the last decade. It includes parts of Fond du Lac, Winnebago, and Dodge Counties.
In 2008, Republican Randy Hopper narrowly won this district over Jessica King by just 163 votes. Hopper was recalled and narrowly defeated by King in 2011 by 1,874 votes.
In 2012, King lost to Republican Rick Gudex by 590 votes. This victory helped give the Republicans a two-vote majority in the State Senate.
When Dan Feyen knocked on 20,000 doors in last year’s campaign, he told people he was for everybody on the Republican ticket. Dan Feyen beat Democrat Mark Harris by almost 10,000 votes. This performance in Fond du Lac County alone also helped Trump.
In 2012, Mitt Romney defeated President Obama in Fond du Lac by 8,076 votes. Donald Trump increased that margin to 13,635 votes. Feyen’s district also included Winnebago County. Romney lost Winnebago County by 3,327 votes. Trump won it in 2016 by 6,398 votes. The fact that Trump had Ron Johnson also helped. He won his home county by 10,766 votes. Russ Feingold only hurt Hillary.
Of course, the fact that the Republicans had Paul Ryan as the speaker of the House and Reince Priebus as the RNC chairman certainly put Wisconsin on the map for the GOP. The success of Scott Walker also attracted Republicans all over the country to figure out how they could win this state that hadn’t gone for the GOP since 1984.
Toward the end of the campaign, Speaker Ryan worked hard to push to support all Republicans, including Donald Trump. Perhaps in the future, other RNC chairmen will follow the Reince Priebus model, meaning that a chairman will be picked from a battleground state and attract the resources to improve the party’s chances of winning that state in future elections.
Donald Trump narrowly won Wisconsin by less than 1 percent of the vote. I had the privilege of going to Wisconsin in the last five days of the election. I traveled from Milwaukee in the south to Green Bay in the north. I was mostly in Fond du Lac, as I witnessed this historic election.
The people in Wisconsin I met were very nice and very informal. Just looking at the lawn signs said a lot about elections in Wisconsin. It wasn’t Feingold or Johnson but Russ and Ron on the lawn signs. The people in Wisconsin are known for their love of cheese, beer, and football.
It is also a place where people can smell phonies and Washington insiders like Russ Feingold and Hillary Clinton. Like most of the country, Wisconsin voters wanted change, and they got it.