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Politics & Government

Presidential Contenders Swarm into Wisconsin, Target Certain Regions - Including Janesville

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One of the first campaign appearances that Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are making in Wisconsin, is Janesville. The location makes sense to Tom Holbrook, Wilder Crane Professor of Government at UW-Milwaukee.

“Janesville is an interesting place. It’s a fairly conservative place. It’s sort of a formerly working class, Democratic area but really hard hit by the economic downtown and even longer term than just going back to 2008-2009. It’s an area where the auto industry used to play a much larger role, so there is a lot of economic distress there.

"For candidates like Donald Trump who is playing the anti free trade message during the campaign, it’s a perfect spot for him; (there’s) probably a lot of resentment down in Janesville about the way things are going in people’s lives. Ted Cruz kind of taps into that a little bit, as well. So I think, in some ways, it’s kind of a natural area for them to go to,” Holbrook says.

UW Madison Political Science Professor Barry Burden says the Janesville stumps may be coincidental but the market does hold strategic value.

“It’s a city that happens to be near the border of three different congressional districts. It's technically in the First District which is Paul Ryan's, but it’s also on the edge of the Second District and the Fifth, and that's important because delegates in the Wisconsin Republican Primary are allocated partially on the basis of districts, so that’s a way to reach voters in three different districts with one event," Burden says, adding that two to three different media markets also cover Janesville, providing candidates with an opportunity to reach a lot of people with a single event.

Yet Burden says, for  Donald Trump, the community's economic situation is probably also a factor.

“His real strength in other states has been men who are white and have less than a college education - working class men, and the higher unemployment rate in Janesville, the depressed nature of the economy in that part of the state mimic other places around the country where he has done well,” Burden says.

In addition to south central Wisconsin, Burden says Trump is likely to do well in the northern and western parts of the state which are more rural.

There are other strategic spots in Wisconsin that the two political scientists expect certain Republican candidates to focus on, during this presidential primary season.

Holbrook says they probably won't ignore Milwaukee County, even though it is not a Republican county, because there are plenty of potential votes here.

“If you go back to the 2012 Republican race, there were almost 90,000 votes just from Milwaukee County in (that) race, and that’s probably somewhere around 10 percent or even more than that, of the statewide total, and you add in the Republican stalwart counties like Waukesha County where you had just about as many votes in 2012.”

Burden expects Republican John Kasich "who hasn't quite found his footing yet" to focus his attentions on parts of suburban Milwaukee as well, or the suburbs of Madison and Green Bay.

"Places where candidates like Marco Rubio would have done well, places where mainstream candidates like Mitt Romney did very well back in 2012. They are more moderate establishment kinds of Republicans that I think would be drawn to a Kasich sort of campaign," Burden says.

Kasich's opening visit to Wisconsin was in the Milwaukee suburb Wauwatosa.

On the Democratic side, Burden says there are two big bases for the party - Milwaukee and Madison, so he expects both Hillary Clinton and Bernie  Sanders to target them heavily.

"Sanders more so in Madison where he has a lot of strength. It’s a more progressive city, it has a lot of students, so that is going to be an important source for him. Clinton has done better among older populations, among African Americans and Latinos, so she’s probably going to put more of her resources into Milwaukee," Burden says.

Yet Burden says the Democrats cannot neglect the rest of the state because delegates are awarded on a proportional basis, so winning upstate can be helpful.

Holbrook sees substantial pockets of  Democratic voters in the western part of the state, "so you may see some extra campaigning out in the La Crosse and Eau Claire areas."

Where both Holbrook and Burden perceive political overlap - a swing section of the state, is in the Fox Valley, Green Bay region, and both foresee the presidential campaigns working it.

"Other than the southeast, it’s where the next largest base of population is and it has sometimes favored Republicans and occasionally favored Democrats. There is a good sized media market there, there is a congressional district that essentially envelops that part of the state...it's up for grabs and there are enough voters there for it to be consequential," Burden says.