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The key county for Wisconsin Democrats

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NBC News reporters followed seven landmark counties as part of the “County to County” project for the 2022 midterm elections. Here is some of what they learned.

Home to the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin state capital of Madison, Dane County provided a clear measure of Democratic enthusiasm in the battleground state that helped propel President Joe Biden to the White House in 2020.

The growing county became increasingly Democratic and overwhelming, helping the party overcome growing GOP advantages in rural areas in high-turnout elections.

However, as the Omicron variant swept the country last winter, even Democratic voters were in a bad mood, showing pandemic fatigue amid Biden’s stalled legislative agenda. Our NBNC News poll showed Biden’s approval among Democratic voters in January 2022 falling to 80%, with a threat from 18% of his base saying they disapproved.

“There were a lot of promises made at the start, that’s certainly why I voted for him and I don’t know, it’s a little disappointing to see that we haven’t made a ton of progress,” said said Samantha Georgson, a County Dane. voter who primarily supports Democrats, told NBC News in Madison, a year after President Biden took office.

But then came the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, who triggered an 1849 state law that shut down abortion clinics statewide with an exemption only for the life of the mother. Abortion access has become a key message for Governor Tony Evers’ successful re-election campaign and Democrat Mandela Barnes’ unsuccessful Senate campaign. Democrats doubled down on the message even as polls showed GOP Sen. Ron Johnson gaining momentum with a message about crime.

For young voters in Dane County, it was a message that worked. Access to abortion was consistently listed on NBC News as a top issue motivating voters.

University of Wisconsin student Valerie Howell, who has said she supports Democratic candidates, told NBC News she probably would have gone to the polls anyway, “but I wouldn’t have been so passionate by this”.

Ultimately, about 90% of the presidential turnout ran in the 2022 midterm elections, surpassing the rest of the state. Democrats were enthusiastic and will continue to view Dane County as key to their path to victory in 2024 and beyond.


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