In Wisconsin, it’s game on.
The top three “tipping point” states – at least according to The New York Times’ number cruncher Nate Silver – are Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. What he means by that is that these three states are most likely to determine the outcome of the electoral vote.
It also means that Wisconsin is the state where the Native American vote is most likely to determine the occupant of the next White House (not to mention have a huge impact on which party controls the U.S. Senate).
Wisconsin actually demonstrates why the Indian vote matters. If you look statewide, the number is a tiny fraction, roughly 1.5 percent of all voters. But dig deeper into the numbers, county by county, and the impact is clearly visible. More on that shortly.
Wisconsin is the classic purple state, sometimes voting for Democrats, and in other elections voting Republican. It recently elected Tea Party favorites as governor, Scott Walker, and for the U.S. Senate, Ron Johnson. And this summer kept Walker in office after he was forced into a recall election.
As Bloomberg News described the outcome at the time: “Walker survived yesterday’s recall vote, defeating Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 53 percent to 46 percent. The campaign to curtail the governor’s term after 17 months was set off by his curbs on public-employee unions, which he said were draining the state’s coffers. The debate ultimately focused on Walker’s promise to improve the economy.”
So recent elections would make one think that Wisconsin is more red than purple. And that is exactly why Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin as his running mate.
But the one problem for Republicans is turnout. Roughly 2.5 million voters went to the polls in the recall election – far more than the 2.1 million that had elected Walker in 2010. But in 2008, when Obama was last on the state’s ballot, nearly 3 million voters turned out. It’s that higher number that is expected again this time around, a projection that augurs well for President Barack Obama.
The way Democrats win in Wisconsin is to roll up votes in the urban areas, Milwaukee and Madison. Republicans win by rolling up votes everywhere else in the state.
In addition to the presidential race, Wisconsin voters could help decide the fate of the U.S. Senate. A former Republican governor, Tommy Thompson, is running against a Madison Congresswoman, Tammy Baldwin. If Baldwin is elected, she would be the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate.
That’s where Indian country picks up the story. There are 11 tribal homelands in the state and two counties that will be hotly contested are Burnett and Sawyer. Burnett is nearly 5 percent American Indian and Sawyer is nearly 17 percent Native. Another county, Menominee, is nearly 85 percent Native. (The last time Thompson was on the ballot, running for governor, Menominee County was the only one in the state he did not carry.)
But the question, as always in Indian country, is about actual turnout. Two years ago, for example, Sawyer County as a whole only had a 48.3 percent turnout, compared to Ozaukee County, a Republican stronghold that showed a 65.5 percent turnout.
In Silver’s election model, Wisconsin is the state most likely to determine the fate of the Senate. He rates the state as “likely Democratic” with an 85 percent chance of a Democratic win for that Senate seat. But that’s as of today. The polls swing pretty wildly in Wisconsin.
The Real Clear Politics average of all polls shows Baldwin with a tiny lead, eight-tenths of one percent.
In the presidential race, Obama continues to lead in the state. And his numbers are back to where they were before the first debate. Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said, “Obama has the advantage over Romney but his lead is less than the double-digit margin he won the state by in 2008.”
Wisconsin tribes, Rock the Vote, and Native Vote will have a rally on Tuesday to turn out the Native voters at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center at the Green Bay airport. Special guests include actor Chaske Spencer (from the Twilight series) and supermodel Mariah Watchman. There will also be a surprise guest, a Green Bay Packer.
Early voting is also underway in Wisconsin.
As I wrote above, it’s game on.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.