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2020: The year a pandemic and politics collided in Wisconsin

TMJ4's long time political reporter Charles Benson looks back on a year that put Wisconsin in the national spotlight.
Posted at 5:23 PM, Dec 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-31 18:23:19-05

2020 was expected to be a big political year in battleground Wisconsin. But politics and a pandemic collided in an unprecedented wave of a changes.

TMJ4's long time political reporter Charles Benson looks back on a year that put Wisconsin in the national spotlight.

Fourteen days into the 2020 election year, President Trump was in Milwaukee for a big rally, testing out a new campaign slogan.
"Who likes 'Keep America Great?'" said President Trump at a packed Panther Arena.

Democrats were also busy in January, planning for the Democratic National Convention at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.

"It's something I think is really exciting but also a little nerve wracking," said Alex Lasry, who played a key role in landing the convention.

Little did Lasry or anyone else know at that time how much the highly prized convention would be dramatically downsized by a virus that was slowly starting to make its way into America.

By mid- March, Governor Tony Evers had declared a Public Health Emergency as Wisconsin battled its first cases of the virus.

"I want to assure everyone that those affected are receiving the best possible care and that all steps are being taken to stop the spread of this virus," said Evers.

But there was no stopping the virus. Governor Evers closed K-12 public schools and later issued his Safer at Home order, forcing all non essential businesses to close.

"Folks need to start taking this seriously," warned Governor Evers, so today, I'm asking for your help."
By early April, chaos and confusion as Presidential primary and Spring election approached.

How do you vote during a pandemic?

Governor Evers tried to delay the election until June. The state Supreme Court said no.

That left thousands of stunned but determined Milwaukee voters standing in long lines to vote in-person.

"Here at Washington High School the line is hundreds deep," reported TMJ4's Ben Jordan.

It would be a week later for election results to roll in and reveal several pivotal changes.

Liberals would gain a seat on the state Supreme Court with Jill Karofsky beating Daniel Kelly.

David Crowley would become the first elected African American to lead Milwaukee County.

An African American would also take over the City Attorney's job with Tearman Spencer beating Grant Langley who had the job for nearly four decades.

Joe Biden won the Wisconsin primary - ending challenger Bernie Sanders chances of getting the nomination.

Coronavirus very much a campaign issue when TMJ4's Charles Benson talked with Biden by Zoom.

Benson: What about those workers who wan to go back - they want it to be safe but they want to go back to work

Biden: I understand - they are a lot of the very people who cant afford to stay home and work from home

Also in April, Vice President Mike Pence talked with workers making ventilators at GE Healthcare in Madison as states like Wisconsin waited for more Covid-19 testing supplies.

Benson: As people look for more testing will governors have to find there own supplies - will it be Wisconsin vs Michigan?

Pence: We've actually established a national supply chain - not just for testing.
As promised, Joe Biden picked a woman for his running mate in August.

Senator Kamala Harris, who briefly lived in Madison as a little girl, was the first woman of color to be on a major party's national ticket.

By the time summer rolled around all hopes for some kind of in person Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee had vanished.

Instead, there was a limited foot print here with a few of local speeches and hundreds of virtual events as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris accepted their party's nomination virtually.

"This is a life-changing election," said Biden from his home state of Delaware.

The same week Democrats were supposed to be in Wisconsin, President Trump traveled to the state with his own message: "Thrilled to be here with you the hardworking patriots of Wisconsin."

The national narrative quickly turned to Kenosha in September after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Some protests turned violent as downtown business were burned and destroyed.

President Trump arrived with a law and order message after sending in more national guard troops to keep the peace.

"We're going to help you, said President Trump to business owners. We'll help you rebuild. It's a great area. It's a great state. This should never have happened."

Two days later, the Democratic presidential nominee would make his first visit to the Badger state with a smaller - socially distance town hall in Kenosha focused on race and reform.

"I heard hope nothing but hope," said Biden, and a commitment to make things better."

October started with news the president had contracted the coronavirus.

President Trump quickly recovered and returned to the campaign trail - including an outdoor rally in Janesville at a time when Covid cases were surging in Wisconsin.

When TMJ4's Charles Benson talked with him, the country was also waiting for another round of stimulus.

Benson: Will there be more money by Election Day? Do you have a deal?

President Donald Trump: Well, I want the money by tonight.

By November, Election Day 2020 would prove to be the year of the absentee ballot.

A record 1.9 million absentee ballots cast - many by mail-in. All told, a record 3.3 million voters in Wisconsin. Counting all those votes would take take all night.

"For most of the early morning hours Donald Trump was up by 100,000 votes but all of that changed when we knew those votes from the city of Milwaukee would come in and that changed everything. Joe
Biden is up by 7,100 votes," reported Benson from the TMJ4 Election Maps.

Biden held on - as Wisconsin once again lived up to its battleground status. The President-elect won by around 20,000 votes - about the same margin as President Trump's victory in 2016.

Republicans elected state Senator Scott Fitzgerald to replace long time conservative Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner who is retiring and Julian Bradley became the first Republican African American in the state Senate.

But the election was not over for Trump's team. They paid for a recount in only Milwaukee and Dane Counties - that didn't change the outcome.

By mid December, the Electoral College sealed the victory for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

"In this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed," said President-elect Biden.

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