WASHINGTON — With no credible Republicans currently jumping in the race to unseat Tammy Baldwin, the Democratic incumbent Senator is looking to take on a different challenge in 2024.
She’s looking to convince conservative voters to vote blue.
“I can’t tell you how many times during the past few years [I’ve heard voters] say, ‘We don’t usually see a U.S. senator coming to our neck of the woods, especially a Democrat,’” Baldwin said. “But showing up matters; listening matters.”
Baldwin, looking to defend her seat again next year, has been known to punch above her weight class in areas where Democrats historically do poorly.
“If you look at the map of the vote, you see that she wins some counties in western and northern Wisconsin that are almost always red counties for other Democrats,” Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, said. “And she turned some of the redder counties pink. St. Croix County would actually be a good example of that from 2018. She didn’t win it, but she came close. Likewise, she does well in the Fox Valley.”
In 2016, Donald Trump won 60 out of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Two years later, Baldwin clinched 29 counties, 17 of them previously voted for Trump. Baldwin called those crossover supporters “Trump-Baldwin voters.”
“A farmer who hosted me on his farm and had a Trump bumper sticker on his car that one of the journalists covering the event noticed and said, ‘Hey, you voted for Trump, it seems. What do you think of Tammy Baldwin?’” Baldwin recalled. “He said, ‘Did you just listen to our roundtable? We told her what our concerns are, and she’s fighting to address every one of the concerns we raised.’”
In rural areas such as conservative Walworth County, President Joe Biden, Gov. Tony Evers and Mandela Barnes — the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2022 — also performed below Baldwin in previous elections. In 2022, Barnes lost Walworth County by 22 points. Evers lost by 18 points that same year. In 2020, Trump beat Biden there by 19 percentage points. And while Baldwin also lost the county in 2018, it was by a much smaller margin of just 10 percentage points.
Franklin attributed her willingness to show her face in those red districts as part of the reason why she’s been successful at siphoning conservative votes.
“Whereas, I think, some campaigns only go to parts of the state that they normally lose in like September and October, Baldwin has had a history of spending the time,” Franklin said. “When she’s in office, she’s going to those less urban places, less Democratic-friendly places.”
Looking to sink her popularity, Republicans are planning to tether Baldwin to the president next year.
“Tammy Baldwin has been nothing more than a rubber stamp for the Biden agenda,” Rachel Reisner, a spokesperson for WisGOP wrote to Spectrum News in a statement. “Baldwin has no problem putting taxpayers on the line for trillions in government spending, meanwhile Wisconsin families are also stuck paying sky-high prices for electricity, school supplies — and just about everything else.”
Days after the Republican National Committee held its first presidential primary debate in Milwaukee, Baldwin rallied with Democrats in the Walworth County.
“Don’t write off anybody,” Baldwin said of her campaign strategy. “Don’t write off any area. You really do have to show up to listen, but also follow up and be a champion for the pocketbook-issues that everybody struggles with.”
A longtime champion for Wisconsin dairy farmers and homegrown manufacturing companies, Baldwin’s policies, such as her “Made in America” provision, have helped her gain appeal across party lines.
After announcing her plans to run again in April, she kicked off her re-election campaign with the “Delivering for Wisconsin Tour.” She started it by traveling to red-leaning districts like Wausau, Eau Claire and Durand; she talked to voters there about her work in the Senate and how it has benefited their respective areas.
“I want to make those same Trump-Baldwin voters into Biden-Baldwin voters, and we’ll be doing that soon,” she said.
With each new supporter, Baldwin slowly chisels away at Republicans’ rural red wall — a huge help for Democrats looking to repeat Biden’s narrow 2020 victory in Wisconsin.