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The View From Waukesha

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Astead Herndon, reporting on the road in Wisconsin while Lisa Lerer is away.

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Credit…Astead W. Herndon/The New York Times

WAUKESHA, Wis. — If Wisconsin is the bellwether state for November’s general election, then Waukesha County might be the most important area of the most important state. Just outside the Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee, it is a safe Republican area, but with many of the kinds of voters who have been souring on President Trump: college-educated white moderates.

Hillary Clinton’s performance here — around a third of the vote — was disastrous for her chances in the state. However, Senator Tammy Baldwin, a progressive Democrat, picked up nearly 40 percent of the Waukesha vote while cruising to re-election in 2018. Former Vice President Joe Biden will need to be more like Ms. Baldwin if he wants to win Wisconsin.

Matt Lowe, the 29-year-old chairman of the Waukesha Democratic Party, is working to pull that off. He says his target number for Mr. Biden in the county is 40 percent, which would help erase the small margin Mrs. Clinton lost the state by.

In an interview today at the county party’s office, Mr. Lowe explained how he thought Mr. Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and protests against racial injustice would hurt the president in the all-important Midwestern suburbs. (As always, our conversation has been edited and condensed.)

What have you seen since 2016 that has changed in this community?

It’s night and day. Whether it’s party organization, energy, enthusiasm, financially — I mean, really almost any way you measure, we’re in a better place now than we were then. When I took over, our membership was in the low hundreds. We had maybe 10 or 15 people coming out for monthly events. It was a very old crowd, not very active or organized. We relied a lot on the state party and the national party to kind of drive everything.

Today we have over 500 dues-paying members. Our last meeting before the pandemic we had over 300 people show up. We have the youngest executive board in the state of Wisconsin. We have the largest high school chapter in the state of Wisconsin. The organization and the enthusiasm have been radically different.

Give me your diagnosis: What happened in this state, and more specifically in this region, in 2016?

I think everybody was complacent. We were just kind of like, “Trump is this insane Republican outlier that no one’s going to back, and come Election Day everyone is going to vote rational.” And come Election Day we were dramatically surprised.

We probably knocked less doors. We put in a little less effort. People who volunteered, they’d say instead of doing those five extra shifts, I’m just going to take it easy and not worry about it. And we got surprised.

In terms of his appeal here, is there something about Joe Biden that makes your job easier?

I think Biden comes with this statesman appeal. Joe Biden is a guy who’s devoted his entire life to serving this country. And he’s always spoken his mind — for good or bad. He’s always been very true with who he is, and you never really question his motives or where he’s coming from.

I think the biggest question most voters ask themselves is, “Who cares about me?” And it’s stark: Who is going to put people like them at the front of their mind, Joe Biden or Donald Trump?

But there was so much talk in the primary, among your generation, of structural, systemic change and how a nominee needs to embrace that to excite the base. The Biden campaign says that he does the structural stuff, but also that he has a different coalition that might not be thrilling the young folks but can lead to success in places like Wisconsin. Is that true?

Conor Lamb [a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania] did an interview recently talking about western Pennsylvania, a very conservative part of a very Wisconsin-like state. And a lot of what he said resonated with me here in Waukesha. You need somebody who’s community first, who is very honest with their stances. And when they disagree with you, they’re telling you why but making sure that you know they’re putting their community first even in that disagreement.

I think Conor Lamb is a great model for what the Democratic Party is. Because the Democratic Party is a big-tent coalition. We have the Conor Lambs and the A.O.C.s [Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York] in the same party, fighting the same fights with radically different ideas. And we welcome that debate.

You’re 29. How does that view fit with your generation, which has many progressives who have been more rigid about what constitutes a Democrat?

I oftentimes have a hard time being this idealistic 29-year-old and a pragmatic county party chair. In 2012, I was a paid Obama staffer and I got my ballot and I wasn’t sure if I was going to vote for him because I was so upset with seeing him govern as a moderate Democrat. And I talked to my mentor at the time, and he told me that I can stand outside the system and [complain], or I can jump in and make the party reflect what I want it to.

I made my choice. I voted for Obama, I dove into the party. So the way I talk to a lot of my friends is that if we want to continue seeing progress, we can try to burn the system down and see what happens, or we can take our steps and get the progressive progression we want. And I think the best thing that we can do, and the best thing that I’ve sold a lot of my younger folks on, is that we elect Joe Biden and we hold him accountable to govern as progressive as we possibly want him to be. That we continue to take safe Democratic seats where there’s maybe a moderate and we put an A.O.C. in there. And we govern with the biggest coalition that pushes our country as far progressive as we can.

The Trump campaign tells reporters like me that the protests are going to scare the Waukeshas of the world, that images of rioting and looting are going to help them win people back. Is that possible?

People are going to see the very limited amounts of rioting and the very limited amounts of looting and weigh them against the thousands of images of peaceful demonstrations. Even in our own county, we have had dozens of peaceful, large demonstrations, over 100 people demonstrating for Black Lives Matter. Yes, they’re going to see these images of fire and looting, but they’re also going to remember driving through their streets and seeing 100 people with masks and signs being super peaceful and calm. More and more as we go along, the ads are becoming a little less effective.

When you do six months of fearmongering, it’s not going to work.

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This morning, the New York Times editorial board commemorated the July 4 weekend with a rollout of the latest chapter in “The America We Need” series, a Times Opinion project on economic inequality. Throughout this weekend, the board wrote, “we celebrate the creation of the United States, though that project remains substantially incomplete.”

“This year of crises has underscored the distance between the lofty rhetoric of our founding documents and the persistent inequalities of American life,” the editorial says. “This nation began as a set of promises that it has yet to keep.”

The board recommends “reversing the economic segregation of residential life,” which compounds economic and social inequality, and “funding schools based on the needs of the students, rather than the value of parents’ homes.” It calls for measures like “reducing, and in some cases eliminating, occupational licensing requirements” — and much more.

The essay acknowledges structural barriers that might prevent bold reforms. Among them is the fact that the “connection between government and the governed is being strained by the growing divide between the distribution of the population and the distribution of senators.”

Still, the editorial concludes, the country must recommit itself to the “difficult but essential work of ensuring all Americans have the freedom to enjoy life and liberty, and to pursue happiness.”

— Talmon Joseph Smith

A deep thought from yours truly:

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Source : New York Times

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