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Three major hurdles Trump faces in his bid to win back Wisconsin: From the politics desk

Welcome to the online version of From the Political Bureauan evening newsletter featuring the latest reporting and analysis from the NBC News Politics team from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, national political correspondent Steve Kornacki discusses Donald Trump’s challenges in Wisconsin as he returns to the state. Plus, NBC News has new reporting on how the Republican Party keeps hitting the same obstacle in mail-in voting: the former president.

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3 major hurdles faced Trump in Wisconsin this fall

Analysis by Steve Kornacki

Donald Trump is in Wisconsin today for a rally that coincides with the state’s presidential primaries but is seen by his campaign as the start of the general election in one of 2024’s key battlegrounds.

The Badger State, along with Michigan and Pennsylvania, is one of three Big Ten states that flipped to Trump in 2016 after decades of supporting Democrats. All three returned to the Democratic fold in 2020, cutting off Trump’s path to reelection.

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Of the three, Wisconsin may offer Trump the best chance to regain lost ground. Joe Biden’s margin of victory in the state was just 20,682 votes (or 0.6%), smaller than both Michigan (154,188 votes) and Pennsylvania (80,555 votes). If Trump can win back Wisconsin, he could claim the presidency by reversing narrow losses in Arizona (10,457 votes) and Georgia (11,779 votes). Without further changes to the map, these three states would bring Trump to 272 electoral votes.

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Trump suffered a net loss of 43,430 votes in Wisconsin from 2016 to 2020. The 2020 results show three clear hurdles for Trump this year.

The suburbs: Any downturn in Wisconsin will invariably appeal to the “WOW” counties – Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington, three large suburban areas outside Milwaukee that represent about 13% of all votes cast in the state. All three have deep Republican traditions and have remained solidly red even as similar suburbs have transformed into blue bastions nationally. But since Trump’s rise to power, two of them have become noticeably less red:

Had Trump maintained his 2016 levels of support in Waukesha and Ozaukee, his statewide margin of defeat in 2020 would have been reduced to just over 10,000 votes. He can’t afford further erosion this fall, and he will likely have to increase his margins from 2020 levels.

Gains that Trump did not keep: Then there are the counties anchored by small to medium-sized cities, where Trump made big improvements in 2016 over the Republican Party’s previous performance — and then gave back crucial ground in 2020.

Add the ground Trump gave up in these five counties in 2020 to his reduced margins in Waukesha and Ozaukee, and it explains his entire statewide margin of loss, and then some. In other words, it’s no coincidence that Trump’s kickoff is taking place today in the Brown County seat of Green Bay.

Dane County is getting bigger and bluer: The state’s largest city, Milwaukee, remains a crucial source of votes for Democrats. But their new asset is Dane County, home to Madison and the University of Wisconsin. Dane has the highest concentration of white voters with college degrees in the state and is filled with college students and much higher income areas. The country is also growing and seems to be getting bluer with every election:

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The turnout in Danes was also astronomical during the recent elections. It’s hard to imagine Trump gaining ground here, but it’s easy to imagine Democrats gaining even bigger margins this fall. This underlines how crucial it will be for Trump to make gains elsewhere. And this is where he hopes to have his own trump card.

Where Trump gained ground: Even as he lost ground between the last two presidential elections, Trump actually gained more votes in 50 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. A few of these counties are significant (Kenosha and Washington), but most are smaller, more rural, and working class. And they all contain a higher concentration of white voters without a college degree than the statewide average.

Many of them showed huge swings toward Trump and the Republican Party when he first took office in 2016 — gains that he then built on marginally in 2020. Combined, they accounted for 42% of all votes cast in the state four years ago, with Trump posting an overall net improvement of nearly 41,000 votes. It wasn’t enough to offset his decline elsewhere, but Trump may be able to squeeze more juice out of these counties this fall — and he’ll probably need it if he wants to turn Wisconsin red again.

Republicans want to encourage mail-in voting, but Trump continues to stand in the way

By Natasha Korecki, Matt Dixon, Abigail Brooks and Emma Barnett

When Trump held a rally last year in Erie County, a key area in Pennsylvania, the top Republican official went one by one to the 11,000 people waiting in line to ask one question: Do you want to vote by mail? ?

It didn’t go well.

“I tried to send them a mail-in ballot, but I could only send out about 300,” said Tom Eddy, head of the county’s Republican Party. “Every one of them said, ‘No, that’s not the right way to vote,’ or ‘Trump doesn’t agree with it.’”

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What happened in Erie County is emblematic of the ongoing feud within the Republican Party over one of the most fundamental elements of elections: how to vote.

National Republicans are trying to create a shift by embracing mail-in and early voting to match what has been a Democratic advantage in recent years.

But interviews with nearly two dozen Republican officials and voters across the country show continued and sometimes fierce resistance to the idea — from Trump on down. The schism signals a potential danger for the party in the fall if it once again fails to match the Democrats’ electoral strength.

It starts at the top. As leader of the Republican Party, Trump has used his position to, without evidence, cast mail-in voting as a Trojan horse for widespread voter fraud. In the process, the former president has eroded confidence in a method once widely embraced by many in his party, putting Republicans at a disadvantage compared to Democrats.

“Mail-in voting is completely corrupt,” Trump said bluntly at a February rally in Michigan. In his stump speeches, written comments often include a plug for voting by mail, but Trump has struggled to recite the rules without sowing doubt about early voting options.

Ballots peaked at 43 million during the pandemic-plagued 2020 election cycle, according to the MIT Election Data Science Lab. That number dropped to 31 million during the 2022 midterm elections, a drop that was expected because there were no pandemic-era voting restrictions and midterm elections generally have lower turnout than presidential elections. It was still significantly higher than the 23 million mail-in ballots cast during the 2018 midterm elections.

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That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have any feedback – like it or not – please email us at politicsnieuwsbrief@nbcuni.com

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This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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