Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Wisconsin Primary - The Results

In my third blog in my series following the US Presidential Primary campaigns, I round up with our visit to the Ted Cruz results watch party in West Allis, just outside Milwaukee, and a summary of a result which had been steadily building over the weekend.

Our journey down began as soon as I had finished visiting campaigners and polling stations across the city. Located in West Allis, this rally was a far cry from the big, bold, and flashy events we had seen yesterday in the Milwaukee centre. Indeed as soon as we arrived at the rally, the very different nature of Ted Cruz's campaign was clear to see. Rather than long queues, street blockades, and tight security, we were able to walk from the street into the centre of the rally in just under 10 seconds. Here, a relaxed crowed were drinking beer and waiting with baited breath for the results to break. 

This isn't a candidate-centric popular movement in the same way that the Sanders and Trump campaigns are, with thousands of supporters pouring in just to get a glimpse of the messenger. This is the campaign of beer drinking, barbecuing, Christian, Mid-West America. A campaign with a totally different feel. 

What followed was a huge night for Ted Cruz (and for Bernie Sanders). One which had been slowly but steadily building over the course of the weekend, and by the time the results were announced, we all knew was coming. 

When Scott Walker endorsed Cruz and introduced him to a rally in Green Bay, we were all but sure that the Senator would be winning the contest by sweeping up votes from Milwaukee up through to the Michigan border. The momentum in the polls was with him, he had the approval of a Senator popular in the state's largest city, and the only mentions among voters here of Donald Trump were made to discredit and dismiss the New York Businessman. 

Equally, Sanders was already set to do well in the majority white, working class rural areas surrounding Milwaukee and Madison, but in our view also appeared to be doing very well with voters in the city itself. This was very significant, as white working class voters in Milwaukee, Sanders' typical base, are very much in minority here with African American and Latino communities making up nearly 70% of the city's population. If Hilary Clinton was not making headway here, there was no way she was making it anywhere else.

In fact almost as soon as we arrived Clinton appeared completely to drop off, to give up and leave Sanders to rally supporters and voters across the city to his cause. A fundraising event with husband and former President Bill Clinton was the only evidence of the Clinton campaign that we could find by the time we had arrived. And as it turned out, Sanders swept the board across the state and lost by just a couple of points here in Milwaukee itself. 

In short, wins for Cruz and Sanders was a result you could see developing over the weekend. The size of them was the surprising element. 

Our visit to the rally Cruz rally gave an insight into the coalition of hardline conservatives and anti-establishment that the Texas Senator is building. It was very much a family affair, with more than a few groups of children, parents and grandparents all out together to soak in the atmosphere of the victory-party-to-be. Looking around, the crowd was almost exclusively made up of what you would consider your 'Average American' out here in the Mid-West.

In terms of what they were saying, the messages from the Cruz crowd were more direct than those from Trump's. Less slogans, more substance. Along with the words 'Jobs', 'Security', and 'Freedom' projected onto the walls around us, 'values' and 'trust' were buzzwords of the night among supporters. They spoke of great admiration for Cruz's conservative credentials, and support for his tough policies on immigration, protecting the constitution, and on cutting 'wasteful' spending. Donald Trump's name is hardly mentioned. 

When the exit poll results were announced, with Cruz surging ahead of his rivals, the room erupted into cheers and applause. Chants of "Cruz, Cruz, Cruz" followed hurried and excited discussion about the projections. The atmosphere moved up ten gears, as the result which so many had hoped would happen looked like being delivered. A result which three weeks ago looked impossible.

After Wisconsin had been officially called for Cruz (to another round of huge applause and cheers) his victory speech which followed was one which firmly steered his campaign toward November and what he believes now will be his upcoming battle with Hilary Clinton. Indeed, his closing words were "Hilary, get ready. Here we come" and in between, he touched on every core Conservative subject that his crowd wanted to hear. 

Once again he reiterated his position as the only candidate able to beat Donald Trump, calling for unity throughout the Republican Party in his effort to stop the tycoon from winning the party nomination. He now believes he has posited himself as the anti-Trump, and everyone had better now fall in line behind him.

The significance of Cruz's big win here means that the Republican race is now almost certainly going to a contested convention. Mathematically, it now fairly inconceivable that their Trump or Cruz will make it to the 1237 delegate mark necessary to take the nomination outright. For the Democrats, it will at least certainly prolong Hilary Clinton's nomination, at best (for Sanders) take the Democrats too to an open contest at their summer convention. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Wisconsin Primary - Polling Day

The second post in my three-part series on the Primaries here in Wisconsin comes as voters across the state head to the polling booths to select their Presidential nominees and local representatives.

On the ground in Milwaukee, the only campaigns visible as we walk around are those of Senator Bernie Sanders and local Alderman Bob Bauman. A volunteer for the latter was stood right across the street from where we are staying, and revels in telling me about the representative's local work after we approach him: "I know him personally", he says, "he's a real good man who gets things done". He does a lot for students as well, I'm assured, which is why the Alderman is standing once more to represent the student-dominated 4th district.

It's in this district where the Sanders campaign too is campaigning hard. Right in front of the University Library I find a campaign volunteer from Michigan. He's adorned from above-head to toe in Sanders attire, prompting one student to pose for a picture with him (which I gladly took).

He tells me that they're campaigning here to make sure the students get out vote, telling me "the most important thing is getting students out to vote, many of them don't know actually what they have to do". Changes in local voter registration rules in Wisconsin mean voters now have to bring photo-ID in order to be presented with a ballot card. A deeply unpopular move which critics say will confound turnout issues in both the student and socio-economically deprived communities.

Our volunteer however is confident of "an easy win" in the area, a feeling shared by a second volunteer who comes to join us as we chat. She tells me she's "shifted around 120 voting cards" while at her station, and has come back for more. The interest in their literature is not surprising given the number of students passing us wearing Sanders badges and pledging their support. Predictably, Sanders seems to be sweeping up the student vote here.

As I move up past the student bubble and further North into an African American majority neighbourhood, gone are the candidates and campaign teams who are replaced by rows upon rows of signs. Interestingly, they are almost exclusively for local and Supreme Court candidates. On this straw 'sign' poll, Alderman Bauman seems very popular. The only Presidential signs present in the neighbourhood were a handful for Sanders and a five-house cul-de-sac which seemed to be the local hub for Ted Cruz fans. People here seem to be very happy openly backing their local candidates, but keeping tight lipped about their Presidential choices.

Across the City, from downtown to the suburban neighbourhoods, there was a constant stream of voters coming in and out all of the polling booths we visited. An early estimate had turnout in Milwaukee up 600% on the last round of Primaries in the state, and it was evident that there was a certain buzz about the contests around today.

Both the Sanders and Cruz camps are becoming increasingly confident of victory. Both candidates are still here today too, campaigning until polls shut at 8pm. On today's evidence that I've seen, Sanders' campaign team will have much to be cheerful about in central Milwaukee. But Milwaukee is just one city in a large state, where many different battlegrounds will decide the outcome of this important step in the Presidential race.

The Wisconsin Primary - The Rallies

This post is now hosted by the Political Studies Association at: https://www.psa.ac.uk/insight-plus/blog/us-primaries-view-wisconsin

---------

The 2016 Presidential Primary race has been a fascinating and highly unpredictable affair on all sides. As we approach the business end of the nomination process where frontrunners are expected to begin tying up proceedings, I have travelled out to USA to spend some time in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with local alumnus Dr. Steven Van Hauwaert as the primaries roll into the latest battleground state.
Like much of Wisconsin, Milwaukee is an industrious city and a very friendly place. But demographically it’s atypical of the state in which it sits. Wisconsin is overwhelmingly white (85% of the total population), but in Milwaukee white Americans are in a minority (37%) with African Americans being the largest ethnic group (40%). It’s also home to a large Latino community, who make up nearly a fifth of the city's population. It is an unusual hotbed of multiculturalism in a predominantly white state.
My first glimpse into the mindsets of Milwaukee's citizens as we approached polling day came from one of the city’s African American residents. A taxi driver from the South, she took our fare to the centre of town on a sunny Friday afternoon and was all too happy to talk politics. I asked her who she intended on voting for in the upcoming ballots, to which she replied "Nobody. The way I see it, if they gonna win, they gonna win. But the Presidentials in November? You best be sure to vote in that. Because if you don't, you 'aint got a say."
Her apathy toward the long, drawn out process of selection is no doubt uncommon throughout Wisconsin, which polls 36th in the line of states. This year Wisconsin however is undoubtedly the scene of a crucial period in the campaigns on both sides of the political divide.
For the Democrats, the state is simply a must-win for Senator Bernie Sanders if he has any chance at all of keeping his campaign alive and kicking. Still trailing his rival Secretary Hilary Clinton in pledged delegates (1243 to 980) and super delegates (469 to 31), Sanders needs a solid win here to stay even remotely competitive.
On the Republican side, Wisconsin has been identified as a 'turning point' for the anti- Donald Trump movement, with some arguing that a solid win for Senator Ted Cruz here could be the perfect end for them to a turbulent week for the current frontrunner and send his campaign into a downward spiral. 
Sanders, Cruz, and Trump have all been very active in Wisconsin in the past few days, but both Clinton and Governor John Kasich have been fairly absent, with the former already in a key upcoming battleground: New York.
But the Primaries aren't the only elections currently happening here. In between campaign adverts for Presidential candidates squeeze messages from candidates standing for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. And out on the streets of the fourth district, Alderman Bob Bauman's face grins at you from every other bus stop, and the man himself can be found braving the snow and biting wind to hand out leaflets to passing voters.
And last night, thousands of Milwaukee citizens turned up tonight to simultaneous rallies held by Sanders and Trump. These meets served as flash-points for all bodies political in the city; up and down queues of attendees, local candidates and campaigners were handing out leaflets and stickers and conversing with everyone they could.
"If you like Sanders then you should vote for Chris Larsen for County Executive" one campaigner told me, "he is a real Liberal Democrat". Ironically totally unaware of the rather tainted status those two words have among younger voters in the United Kingdom (or indeed that I was from the United Kingdom).
We managed to get in to Sanders' rally, and from the Press block we could see the crowd, staff and press operation from back to front. A full four-hour extravaganza, the Sanders campaign filled the Wisconsin Centre Ballroom with stages and rigs and a big name warm up act in 3OH!3 (among others).
The crowd itself was made up of the usual suspects: though there was a good mix of ages it was predominantly young, and very much ethnically white. All were in good spirits - so much so that some dancing even broke out by the time the headline musical act took to the stage.
The feeling among the staff we spoke to was very upbeat. Professionally, they couldn't be happier to help. And personally they expressed quiet confidence that their candidate would be taking the majority of the 96 pledged delegates on offer tomorrow. The crowd there would have certainly agreed; the great energy which has followed Sanders’ campaign across America is tangible here in Milwaukee.
When Bernie Sanders stepped up to the podium, it was to rapturous applause and deafening cheers. Many in the room had waited hours to see him speak. His speech moved from topic to topic, reaffirming his progressive credentials, key principals and policies, and generally hit all the right Wisconsin buttons - including getting in a jibe or two at unpopular state Governor Scott Walker.
Not everyone here has been jumping on the anti-Walker bandwagon however; earlier in the day, Ted Cruz had been endorsed and introduced to a rally in Green Bay, just north of Milwaukee, by Governor Walker. Speculation is now mounting here that he will be named as Cruz’s running mate.
After Sanders had finished we hastily made our way over to a location a mere hundred or so metres away where Donald Trump had been speaking, hoping to catch whatever we could of the end. Unlike the calm and quiet queue we had stood in a few hours before, we found ourselves surrounded by a heavy police presence, blockades, and steel fencing. Black-clad men stood menacingly at every corner, eyes scanning for any potential trouble makers as flashing blue and red lights illuminated the streets. A completely different atmosphere.
Trump's supporters sticking around outside the venue paid no notice, and many were more than happy to be interviewed, "I'll be voting Donald Trump tomorrow, for sure. He's the only man who'll do what needs to be done", said one. He wouldn't elaborate on precisely what that was.
Another said he admired Trump for being a self made man, a man with common sense. These are all the usual soundbites from voters who feel that Trump is everything that they wish politicians always were - strong, decisive, and a living testament to the American dream.
Appearing on 'Hannity in Wisconsin' broadcast by Fox News later that evening (in an interview filmed earlier in the day), Trump himself was bullish as ever and promised that he 'had a strategy' to defeat Clinton should the two be facing off later in the year.
As the polls open today, Wisconsin may well have a big say in whether or not he will get that chance.