Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Where They're Campaigning--Obama Along the Mississippi

Tomorrow the Obama campaign will hit La Crosse Wisconsin (see coverage here)—his fourth visit to the Badger state since the convention. La Crosse, population 52,000, sits along the Mississippi River, and is the hub of a region that I’ve argued is crucial to Democrats’ success in Wisconsin (see post here).

La Crosse county has voted Democratic in the past five presidential elections. Kerry received 53% in 2004 here. The county has also gone Democratic in the past two gubernatorial races. At the congressional level, La Crosse is the largest city in Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District, currently represented by Democrat Ron Kind. Kind, first elected in 1996, has been comfortably re-elected in all of his campaigns with vote totals in the neighborhood of 65%. Prior to Kind’s arrival, the district had a more Republican (albeit very moderate) bent, sending Steve Gunderson to the House for eight terms.

One component of this region’s demographics that is surely attractive to the Obama team is the fact that five campuses of the University of Wisconsin system fall within the 3rd district (UW La Crosse, Eau Claire, Platteville, River Falls, and Stout), thus providing a sizable youth vote. Many suggested that this vote was crucial to the Democrats’ ability to regain control of the Wisconsin State Senate in 2006 (see post here).

Another fact of note about the area is that this district also includes Wisconsin’s fastest growing county—St. Croix. About 150 miles north of La Crosse, St. Croix County has increasingly become exurban Minneapolis/St. Paul. In fact, this whole region in many ways has a dual identity as it is pulled between the Twin Cities and Wisconsin. The Minnesota counties that sit directly across the Mississippi River from La Crosse—Houston and Winona—are very competitive. Winona County has been decided by less than 2% for the past five elections (with the Democrats winning the past 4) while Houston County has been decided by less than 2% in each of the past six elections (with Republicans winning all except ’96). Thus, the Obama campaign may be hoping for some residual benefits of this visit to accrue across the river in another swing state.

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