Wisconsin. It's a state that's known for its dairy farms, cheese curds and the Green Bay Packers. The state is often overlooked and lumped in with other states in the midwest as simply a "flyover" area. But as November quickly approaches, all eyes are on the Badger State. It's considered a swing state. Wisconsinites went for Barack Obama in 2012 and President Donald Trump in 2016. It's a state Hillary Clinton abandoned all together and it's Democrats' general attitude towards Wisconsinites that has Republicans confident Trump can carry the state again this election cycle.
What's amazing, however, is how little people across the nation understand Wisconsin, both culturally and politically. Very few people realize just how loyal Wisconsinites are, both to their neighbors and the Packers. When the Packers play, the state literally shuts down so that everyone can watch their team play.
"We used to joke. We didn't do this – obviously joked about it – that politically, if you wanted to have an impact, you'd call on the day of a Packers game, during the Packers game, for your opponent, because people would be so ticked off, that they got a call from your opponent," former Gov. Scott Walker told Townhall with a chuckle. "Obviously, we didn't do that but that's how sacred the Packers are. We say on Sundays there's church and there's the Packers game. Both are considered religious experiences in Wisconsin."
Even though people don't understand the culture in the Badger State, they also don't understand the state's demographics. In a lot of ways, Walker said Wisconsin is a "microcosm of America."
"You've got two really big cities, although those cities are very different as well. Milwaukee is a classic blue collar city with a large minority population, but is Democrat but isn't necessarily radically liberal. They're just kind of traditional Democrats and a lot of the elected officials over the years in that city have reflected that," he explained. "And then in Madison you have the second largest city. You have a campus town, home of the capital, state employees. It's a much more radical. It's the place where Bernie Sanders signs were still up four years after he first ran."
Milwaukee suburbs tend to be more traditional and Republican but they're not as red as the cities are blue. Rural areas generally go Republican, with the southwest corner of the state being the exception because of its close proximity to the state's capital.
"The northern part of the state, the wooded areas, is not very densely populated and a lot of people feel forgotten. The key to winning is the industrial, mid-size cities – ironically, it's the Kenosha, the Racine, the Sheboyans, the Fox Valley cities – those are the places that are up for grabs. The Green Bay, the Fond du Lac, places I did well in, Tommy Thompson (R) did well in, the president did well in four years ago but two years ago Tammy Baldwin (D) did well in as well," Walker explained. "It's a microcosm of America."
What makes the Badger State so unique is the independent streak Wisconsinites have.
"There's this midwest nice sentiment that transcends politics," Walker said.
Milwaukee, however, still has a very small town feel. People say hi to and look out for one another, something that is missing from larger cities.
"It's not as dramatic of a culture clash as if someone from New York City met someone from North Dakota," he said. "Politicians are independent, they're bold, but they're courteous. They're pretty decent towards each other."
It's that independent streak that has Wisconsinites vote for both Republicans and Democrats.
"Traditionally, the back and forth, I think is reflective of the fact that because of that kind of evolution from a small town feel, even if we're still somewhat of a mid-size state and a very diverse demographically, age – every category – race, sex, very diverse state reflective of America," Walker told Townhall. "I think that because there's that small town feel, and because there's a really strong sense of civic responsibility, very high level of volunteerism, one of the highest rates of participation in elections, very high voting turnout, very high civic involvement, and what comes with that is people take it very seriously."
The other aspect that Walker said plays into is voter registration.
"People can say they're Democrat or Republican but you don't have to register as one to vote, unlike many states," he explained. "I think there's that independent streak that even if someone traditionally votes one party or another, they take every election seriously. They look at the facts. They look at the person. They weigh it all. And that's why historically you've had votes that seem somewhat contradictory."
When former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) was re-elected to his fourth term, Russ Feingold, a rather liberal senator, won his second term.
"People say, 'How can that happen?' Again, when you have a state who takes it very seriously and who values people who are plain spoken [and] tell what you're going to do and do it," Walker said.
When Walker won the state's first-ever recall election in 2012, President Obama carried the state.
"We found that about 11 percent of the electorate were people that voted for me and then turned around and voted for Obama, which, politically, makes no sense, but they're people are very independent," he explained. "They may not agree with everything each of us did but they like the fact that I didn't back down with 100,000 protestors and they feel like the president did the things he was doing. And that's why voters like that, even if they voted for Obama in 2012, are still voters President Trump was able to get a small percentage of ... those are the voters they're fighting over right now."
According to the former governor, most people think of Wisconsin as a rural state with dairy farms but there's so much more to the state. While there are dairy farms (and cheese!), Wisconsin also has a heavy logging and industrial presence, especially in the northern part of the state. And those are where voters have felt the most forgotten... until President Trump came along.
"The appeal [Trump] had and where he did well – it was statewide – but particularly well in the northern part of the state, in the 7th and 8th Congressional Districts, in the most northern part of the state, they did exceptional in the 6th too but the two in the north, that's where people felt forgotten. They're out of the big media markets. In fact, in the northwest, often times they get their media out of the Twin Cities and not out of the Wisconsin market," the former governor said. "They feel forgotten. They feel like everybody in the state only pays attention to Milwaukee and Madison and so, in general, they feel forgotten."
Walked said he made extensive efforts to frequently visit that part of the state because of how constituents felt. He said that paid off.
"They felt like, 'Hey! Finally, someone knows we're up here and pays attention to us,'" he explained. It's Trump's messaging and focus on those exact voters that helped him carry the state.
"In 2016, the president's whole message of 'Hey, I'm fighting for the forgotten man and woman, for too long people made bad trade deals, they've come to enrich themselves in Washington, they don't care for the little guy and gal trying to fight hard just to make ends meet.' That was a compelling message, along with Donald Trump's 'I don't need this job, I'm going to lose money on this job, I'm going to give my salary back, I just love America, and I'm sick and tired of all these people in Washington screwing us over.' That in general, but particularly to those people who feel forgotten, is very, very compelling."
"I think one of the best things he did in the last few months that appeals to those voters, wasn't even a campaign thing, it was what he did a couple weekends ago when he signed those Executive Orders on unemployment and the payroll tax and a few other things, because here you saw all this bickering in Washington, in the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans couldn't get their act together and boom, in Trump comes in," Walker explained. "The media says he can't do it but he comes in and just does it and I think – not even going to argue about the legality of it – I think to those voters, they look at it and say, 'This is why we voted for Donald Trump.'"