Upper Midwest battlegrounds key to getting Biden over line

Rust belt’s identification with Democrat gives slight lead in Michigan and Wisconsin

As in 2016, a trio of upper Midwestern states have again proved key battlegrounds in deciding the outcome of the US presidential election.

Key bricks in the "Blue Wall" that, until 2016, were seen as Democratic Party strongholds, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania are likely to decide the fates of President Donald Trump and his Democratic Party challenger, Joe Biden.

Biden campaigned in these three states as someone who identified with regular folk in the rust belt, the area once known for its heavy industry. It appears that characterisation may see Biden get over the line in the upper Midwest – and by consequence into the White House.

On Wednesday night, he held slight leads in Michigan and Wisconsin, with several media outlets calling the latter for him. He was behind Trump in Pennsylvania, where a result isn’t expected until Thursday or later, but where many of the still-to-be-counted postal ballots are in Democratic-leaning urban districts.


Analysts suggest Biden could get to the 270 electoral college votes that would send him to the White House without winning Pennsylvania.

Still, there’s no question that support for the US president has held up across the Midwest. His resilience across the region – regardless of whether he wins or not – has caught many off-guard.

Economic hardship

Despite Trump being widely panned for his handling of the pandemic and for failing to act to alleviate the associated economic hardships facing many, millions more votes were cast for him in this election than in 2016.

The president’s campaign messaging appears to have been on point, hitting home with people likely to share his values or Republican supporters for whom casting a ballot for Biden was too much of a leap. Trump campaigned long and hard across the Midwest, visiting five states in a 24-hour period last weekend.

He criticised Democratic Party leaders in swing states such as Michigan for enacting virus-related restrictions that prevented struggling businesses from operating freely. On Wednesday, his campaign filed a lawsuit in Michigan to stop ballot counting, claiming Trump campaign staff have been prevented from accessing counting locations.

When a police officer shot Jacob Blake, a black man, seven times in the back in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August, Trump portrayed the incidents of unrest that followed as a threat to the safety and security of majority-white suburban residents.

That argument appears to have also resonated greatly with residents of rural counties – Wisconsin has seen massive turnout this election and the Trump campaign on Wednesday called for a recount there.

In Ohio, a longstanding bellwether state (no Republican candidate has ever won the presidency without taking Ohio), Trump had an eight percentage point lead with 90 per cent of votes reporting, mirroring his 2016 win, despite polls in the run-up to election day showing an even race.

Corruption scandal

Ohio had taken on the appearance of turning increasingly conservative in recent years and if the president’s lead holds, as is expected, its reputation as a swing state may become a thing of the past. A major corruption scandal involving leading Ohio Republican politicians that broke in July has apparently made little difference to voters.

Aside from the cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus, which recorded significant Democrat gains, Republican candidates look like winning a host of state house and Senate races, as well as US Congress seats.

“There are people hurting around here and [Republicans] are selling a product, some kind of a way out, I guess and people are attracted to that,” says Kim McCarthy, a Democrat who was defeated by a Republican candidate in a race for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives.

“People have lost good-paying jobs. I don’t blame people for attaching themselves to some sort of saviour. Trump is the symptom of the reality for so many Americans.”

However, even if Ohio has turned red, the state's Montgomery County has an accurate track record predicting American presidents, voting for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 before Trump took a narrow victory in 2016. There, Biden holds a slight lead with almost 90 per cent of votes counted.

Indiana's Vigo County has voted for all but two presidents since 1888. A problem with scanning codes that caused 1,500 ballots to be remade saw counting there to be stopped on Tuesday night, adding to the drama pouring out of the Midwest.