Wikler, though, remains nervous, even as polls show Biden with a sizable lead in the state. Between trying to do pandemic organizing, overseeing events that have made Wisconsin Democratic Party livestreams the hottest virtual ticket in Hollywood, and recovering from a string of losses at the Supreme Court in cases that tried to facilitate ballot counting, Wikler said he’s still not sure whether Wisconsin will decide the election again or whether the state will be one of several “cherries on top of a democracy sundae.”
What follows is a transcript of our conversation. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
Edward-Isaac Dovere: Joe Biden hasn’t been to Wisconsin much, though he’s coming Friday. Harris hasn’t either. Aren’t they making the same mistake that Hillary Clinton did by not spending enough time in the state?
Ben Wikler: Biden and Harris prioritized Wisconsin as their first long-distance trips once the general election started after the conventions. They have come here in person; they’ve come here virtually; they’ve poured resources into the state. Comparing 2020 to 2016 isn’t apples and oranges; it’s grapes to watermelons. At this point, any potential Biden-Harris voter in Wisconsin is getting text messages, phone calls, mailers in their mailbox, door hangers, literature, television ads, Facebook ads, Instagram ads, radio ads—a constant drumbeat of reminders, information, support, and every possible kind of encouragement to cast a ballot and cast it early.
Wisconsin is experiencing a horrific and tragic coronavirus explosion. We are setting grim records every day for deaths, hospitalizations, and new infections. Trump’s super-spreader rallies are profoundly irresponsible, and the Biden-Harris ticket and the whole campaign have been deeply careful about not creating conditions that could worsen the pandemic during the year during in-person visits.
Dovere: There’s a new poll out that shows Biden 17 points up in Wisconsin. Is he?
Wikler: I am organizing and operating as though it’s neck and neck. It would be an ahistorical stunner to have a margin in that territory. The truth is that no one really knows how to model an electorate in the midst of this pandemic, plus a deeply not-normal Trump operation and the intensity of people’s reaction to it.
Dovere: Are we even able to tell what a likely voter is at this point, for Biden or for Trump?
Wikler: We’re talking to people who are very likely by the supporters. We’re also reaching out to people who our data suggest might be Biden supporters, and very often they’re turning out to be enthusiastically ready to vote for Biden and Harris.
Dovere: The lesson that reporters were supposed to learn from 2016 was to get out and talk to people more. Now the lesson is “Don’t talk to people, or you might die.” That makes it hard for reporters to have a sense of what’s going on. Do you feel like you have a sense of where things stand?