Political organizing in a swing state in the final days of this election is like “riding the hurricane,” Ben Wikler told me when I called him up yesterday morning. When I noted that this isn’t a very apt reference for the Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman to make, he instead offered “speed-skating in a blizzard on a frozen lake.”
Wikler, a Wisconsin native, was living in New York in 2016, working in a top position for the Democratic organizing group MoveOn. Donald Trump’s 22,748-vote win in Wikler’s home state, combined with Hillary Clinton’s famous failure to ever campaign in the state during the general election—part of a widespread collapse in Democratic operations there—convinced him to move back and run for the traditionally unglamorous job of state-party chair.
Wisconsin leads the nation in farm bankruptcies. Jobs lost to trade deals haven’t come back. Economic anxiety still dominates in the state, but it’s translating differently after nearly four years of a Trump presidency. “People were excited that someone was talking to something they cared about,” and Trump “showed up,” Mark Pocan, who represents Wisconsin in the U.S. House and is a committed progressive, told me recently. But “this time it’s very clear. He didn’t bring those jobs. Now he actually has to live on a record.” Trump’s play for “law and order” after the tension in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake and 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse’s alleged killing of two protesters, Pocan told me, had backfired: “People in suburban areas who live on cul-de-sacs are less worried about a protest breaking out in their cul-de-sac than a kid who’s 17 coming down the street with a rifle.”