Political cash flows into Great Lakes states with presidency on the line

The biggest political donors and the grassroots are investing heavily in swinging three Great...
The biggest political donors and the grassroots are investing heavily in swinging three Great Lakes States, success may secure the presidency for their candidate. (Source: Gray DC) (GRAYDC)
Published: May. 28, 2020 at 3:48 PM CDT
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The presidency may be won - or lost - along the shores of the Great Lakes, drawing investment from mega-donors and the grassroots.

Four years after President Obama rang up solid victories in every Great Lakes state except Indiana in 2012, President Trump scored nail bitingly close wins in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

The combined difference between Trump and Hillary Clinton amounted to just 0.77 percent of all the votes cast there in 2016. And, it essentially won him the race despite Clinton’s three-million popular vote advantage.

That has political power-brokers in those states and D.C. convinced wins this November in those states could deliver the White House for their candidate.

Billions of dollars will be spent to influence 2020 elections, but few will spend more than American Bridge, a Democratic SuperPac. SuperPacs, also known as 'dark money groups' can raise and spend unlimited cash, legally, so long as they don’t coordinate with or bankroll campaigns and parties.

But, even with tens of millions of dollars at its disposal, American Bridge's co-founder and president said resources are finite. His strategy: invest early and heavily in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

"That’s where we’re focusing all of our resources,” he said, “you want to look at the states that you think are going to be at the core [of winning the Electoral College].”

American Bridge launched ad blitzes in the three swing states beginning in November and recently, tailored a website to the region. “Our theme of this project has really been to find local people telling local stories,” said Beychok.

Those stories may center on the dairy industry in Wisconsin, or water quality in Michigan. But Beychok said they’ll all feature locals -- including many Trump supporters -- making the case that the president’s policies aren’t good for the health of voters or their finances.

The website can be found here:


Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt said Trump’s record and economy earn high-marks back home, describing voters as wary of Democrats’ desire to expand government.

“I think we’re well poised to deliver Wisconsin for the president,” he said.

Unlike Michigan, Wisconsin doesn’t have another statewide race on the ballot in November. Hitt said they will be working on winning state senate and assembly seats, but he'll be devoting more time than most state party chairs to the top of the ticket.

“It is our primary focus,” he said.

Hitt began staffing up last July with financial backing and coordination help from the national party and Trump campaign. He said more than 60 full-time staff and an army of volunteers are making one-on-one connections online with voters while public life remains largely shutdown.

Traditional door-knocking will begin again at some point, and ads will follow this fall.

“iI’s going to be an exciting time to be in politics in Wisconsin,” he said at the conclusion of our interview.

Neither American Bridge nor the Wisconsin G.O.P. wanted to share much about their budgets. Campaign finance records lag about a month behind, but show both American Bridge and the Wisconsin Republican Party with millions in the bank.

American Bridge raised more than $27-million since the beginning of 2019, and spent $24-million. It's spent $8.5-million on campaign advertising since November, all of it political attacks on the president.

Wisconsin's G.O.P. raised nearly $4-million since the start of 2019, and spent a little more than half of it.

In Wash, I’m KM

Even with coronavirus tamping down individual donations, campaign finance experts said this year will still be the most expensive yet.

Sarah Bryner with the Center for Responsive Politics said Wisconsin and Michigan will likely get even more attention and outside cash this cycle because fewer experts see Ohio as a swing state anymore. President Donald Trump won the Buckeye State by eight percent in 2016.

Bryner also said, you can expect campaigns to tie just about every issue into the pandemic.

Even in the most-targeted of states though, she said competition for any given voter will differ dramatically. Strategists on the right and left may say they're competing for every vote, but Bryner said those and to heavily living in-between big cities and small towns will be the ones who get bombarded with ads, calls and door knocks.

"Obviously, they’re going to play to swing voters," Bryner said, "and swing voters don’t tend to live in urban environments, or, really in rural environments either."

Bryner said recent policy changes on some social media sites are making it harder for campaigns to target highly specific groups – though that’s still an option on the largest platform: Facebook.

She said it’s not clear what kind of impact all the outside spending will have on local races in Wisconsin but does see it as a potential game-changer in Michigan’s highly-contested U.S. Senate race, where incumbent Democrat Gary Peters will square-off against an as yet undetermined challenger.

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