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Republican Test – Matt Pommer Column – 5-18-2016

The content in this column does not reflect the views or opinions of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association or its member newspapers. 

 by Matt Pommer

Donald Trump has scrambled traditional political thinking in Wisconsin, providing challenges for Republican leaders.

Trump has high negative ratings among multiple groups of voters, based on results from several tests conducted by the Marquette University Law School poll.

The Republican Party has been strongest in the suburban counties west and north of Milwaukee. It’s been dubbed as the “WOW” land – Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha counties.

Census results show a predominately white citizenry with above-average levels of both higher education and income. They also have produced large pluralities for Republican candidates.

But the polls show 72 percent of suburban voters have negative feelings about Trump, who will be the Republican presidential candidate this fall.

Statewide the polling shows 78 percent of colleg-educated citizens have a negative feeling about Trump. More than half of those calling themselves Republicans have negative feelings about Trump. It’s 40 percent in the WOW counties.

Popular conservative talk-radio shows in the Milwaukee market have provided Republican support in previous election campaigns, but reports indicate the talk-show personalities have uneasiness with Trump’s unclear conservativism.

Perhaps it is the vulgarity of his campaign exchanges. It has been unclear where he stands on major social issues.

The Trump campaign contends the Wisconsin poll numbers will change as the campaign heats up. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front runner, also has substantial negatives, although not as high as those for Trump.

Erosion of support in suburban Milwaukee can be offset in the arc running from La Crosse across northern Wisconsin to Green Bay, according to Trump’s campaign. It’s the broad area in which Trump did best during the April primary in Wisconsin.

The areas in the west and north sometimes are dubbed the “resentment” parts of Wisconsin. Hard economic times have pinched many in these areas.

The paper industry has seen the demand for some of its products erode in the last two decades. Plunging ore prices have scuttled talk of a major job mining operation in the North. The populations are getting older. There is no major influx of the young.

Unanswered is whether the resentment has shifted against Walker. Rural folks increasingly suggest they are getting the short end of government programs.

On the other hand, Walker is being cited by national columnists as a possible GOP presidential nominee in 2020. That won’t happen, of course, if Trump wins this year and runs for re-election.

Pundits also have suggested that Trump at the head of the GOP ticket could be a drag on congressional and legislative elections on the ballot.

That’s doubtful in Wisconsin, perhaps the most gerrymandered state in the nation. The lines were drawn by Republican legislative leaders and Walker to guarantee control of the Legislature.

Walker and Republicans also have made it more difficult to vote, requiring photo IDs and making absentee-voting changes. Republicans sold it as trying to curb fraud.

The Trump candidacy provides a special test for Walker who has promised to support the Republican presidential nominee. Walker also will be on the campaign trail hoping to re-elect U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh.

Walker’s own popularity in a recent Marquette poll was 43 percent.