MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin has been the battleground for political proxy wars for nearly a decade, the backdrop for bruising feuds over labor unions, executive power, redistricting and President Donald Trump.
Now, six months before a presidential election, the state is on fire again. With a divided state government and a polarized electorate, Wisconsin has emerged as a hotbed of partisan fighting over the coronavirus, including how to slow its spread, restart the economy, vote during a pandemic and judge Trump's leadership.
In recent weeks, every political twist has been dissected by the parties, political scientists and the press, all searching for insight into which way the swing state might be swinging in the virus era.
Democrats had the most significant recent win, a contested statewide Supreme Court race. It gave them a claim on sense of momentum after making gains in the 2018 midterm elections. But Republicans this past week won a special election for Congress, albeit in a GOP stronghold, and successfully had the governor's stay-at-home order tossed out by the state Supreme Court.
But no one is making predictions about Wisconsin in November, other than to note that the latest fight over the fallout from the coronavirus may be the most important of them all.
“The jury’s still out,” said former Gov. Scott Walker, perhaps the figure most closely associated with Wisconsin's political turbulence. The Republican had previously said the economic recovery favored Trump carrying the state. On Friday, he said the November presidential election will be a referendum on Trump's handling of the pandemic.
“One, how do you feel about your own health and health of your family,” Walker said. “Two, how do you feel about the health of the economy, particularly your own job. ... If people are still freaked out, then I think it’s always tough for any incumbent."
Taking their cues from Trump, who has called on states to “liberate” residents from stay-at-home orders and get back to normal, state Republican lawmakers challenged Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' order in court. Similar maneuvers have been tried in Michigan and Pennsylvania, the other Rust Belt states that backed Trump in 2016 and handed him the White House.