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Capital City Sunday: 2020 What’s at Stake, Biden/Trump campaign & Election Interference

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MADISON (WKOW) -- It's just two days until Election Day and the stakes are high, even more so as the COVID-19 pandemic has rocked our state and country.

The contest between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden will perhaps be the starkest choice between two competing visions for our nation's future.

President Trump is eyeing a second term, but is trailing in national and state polls. The latest Marquette University Law School Poll shows Joe Biden leading by 5 percentage points, 48% to 43%.

In a new poll from the UW-Madison Election Research Center, Biden extended his lead over Trump by 9 percentage points, 53% to 44% among likely voters.

Bill McCoshen, a Republican strategist, brushed off the narrative that Trump is behind in the battleground state, noting his rallies are firing up supporters.

"I think Wisconsin is in for another surprise," said McCoshen.

Melissa Baldauff, a former aid to Governor Tony Evers and Democratic strategist, says while the crowds are enthusiastic she blames the president for spreading the virus in different hot spots across the state.

"The crowds are huge, but the enthusiasm is not off the charts, the infections are off the charts that's the stark difference between President Trump and Joe Biden," said Baldauff.

Both agree COVID-19 will play a role in this election but also the economy, as the pandemic has created record-high unemployment. The president is relying on a record-breaking US economic growth in the third quarter to convince voters he's the better choice to handle the recovery from the coronavirus recession.

"If the economy is the closing issue for undecided voters, we'll take that all day," said McCoshen.

Another area the president is struggling with is suburban voters, which Baldaulf believes is a group that is leaning toward Biden because of the pandemic.

"I'm a suburban mom and we're worried about our kids, them not being in school, we want to help our families stay afloat and get our economy back on track," said Baldauff.

Another area up for grabs this election is the WOW counties (Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington) an area that helped carry Trump in 2016 but over the years, support for the president has dwindled.

There are also competitive races in the state legislature that are typically safe Republican districts.

Baldauff and McCoshen believe this is being influenced by the legislature's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, as for the first time since January 2019, the MU poll shows the legislature's approval rating dropped to a 36% approval rating.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin holds a significant lead in fundraising compared to the state Republican Party. Democrats raised over $34 million dollars in 2020 compared to $15 million by Republicans.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is up for re-election and the GOP is pumping thousands into his race as his competitor, Joel Jacobsen, is creating the biggest challenge the speaker has faced since winning his seat 16 years ago.

Baldauff believes the inaction by the legislature to pass another COVID-19 relief bill and their multiple attempts in the courts to revoke emergency orders by the governor to prevent the spread is making it harder for Republicans to win reelection.

"They're going to lose a few seats and Vos doesn’t have anything to run on for his accomplishments -- he’s pulling money from Republicans in other districts to help protect himself," she said.

McCoshen agrees Republicans will likely lose some seats, but is confident Vos will win.

"By next week I think Democrats will say, 'why did we spend $8,000 against the Speaker,' because they could have had much better chances at a few assembly seats," he said.

2016 crossover appeal, Affordable Care Act

In the closing days of Trump's re-election campaign, he's increasingly focusing on a former opponent of Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

The president is trying to highlight division in the Democratic party, a crossover appeal that worked for him in 2016.

According to the Cooperative Congressional Election study, about 12% of Sanders supporters backed Trump four years ago. 

Sanders is often targeted by Trump in campaign speeches as he tries to paint Joe Biden as too liberal for voters. Sanders tells 27 News he doesn’t think Trump’s attempts will make a difference.

“The overwhelming people who supported me understand it is absolutely imperative that we defeat the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country,” said Sanders. “I would hope whatever their political belief is they understand we can’t have a pathological liar as president.”

When asked about health care, Sanders said he has a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act if it’s overturned. The Trump administration is currently seeking to strike it down. 

“There is a plan, believe me, to make sure if the ACA is overturned that we will replace it immediately,” he said.

Trump Campaign Defends COVID-19 crisis

During multiple campaign stops, President Trump continues to tell thousands of supporters the country is “rounding a turn” on COVID-19. In reality, Wisconsin and several other states are not. 

State health officials are calling the pandemic a “nightmare” situation, as coronavirus cases, deaths, and hospitalizations skyrocket. 

When asked what is the president’s plan to start reducing the spread of COVID-19, the Trump campaign touted therapeutics and vaccines.

“We are getting better at therapeutics and treatments and the number of mortality rate is declining -- cases are up but deaths are flatlining -- which is still tragic, but we are learning how to treat this better,” said Steve Cortes, a senior advisor for the Trump campaign. 

The president also held rallies in multiple hot spots across the state last week with little to no social distancing and many attendees without masks. Cortes argues it’s the attendees' choice to go to the rallies and believes Americans can make the right decision themselves. 

When asked why the president ignores his own White House Coronavirus Task Force guidelines at these rallies and doesn’t encourage mask-wearing, Cortes said the president does. 

“He wears a mask when needed but he is far more isolated than other people because people around him are tested so frequently and it’s not a silver bullet but it’s a level of protection a lot of people don’t have,” he said.

On the topic of healthcare, Cortes said Trump will release his plan to replace the Affordable Care Act after the election and plans to protect preexisting conditions through an executive order.

Election Interference

For years voters didn’t have to worry about foreign interference in our elections, but now it’s a real threat in this presidential election, just as it was in 2016.

We’ve learned a lot since the Russian attack on the 2016 election but government officials warn of additional threats leading up to the 2020 election. 

Young Mie Kim, a UW-Madison Political Science Professor and expert on foreign interference, said our country has improved over the last four years in catching attempts to spread misinformation online, but acknowledged it’s still difficult to track them all. 

“What we have to be aware, there are increased attempts and it has been constant just as it was in 2016," Kim said.

Most recently, intelligence officials announced that both Iran and Russia are attempting to interfere in the U.S. election. The two nations obtained some voter registration data and are trying to influence U.S. politics. 

Despite the interference attempts, Kim says you should be confident that your vote counts.

When it comes to advice on how to spot misinformation online, Kim says to be skeptical.

“Use multiple resources, make sure it’s a credible source to check and see if that information is real or not,” said Kim. 

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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