As Dems go virtual, Republicans shun Covid fears on Wisconsin campaign trail
Pro Trump Supporter Wisconsin (Screen Grab)

Wisconsin is seen as a key battleground state in the upcoming presidential election with Trump winning there by just 1% of the vote in 2016. Both Democrats and Republicans have made the state a top campaign target but the Covid-19 crisis has prompted the parties to take radically different approaches.

At the Republican field office in Sauk County, Wisconsin, Donald Trump supporters gather for a campaign training session. While many of the volunteers wear masks inside the small room, others do not, despite rising coronavirus cases in the state and an order by the governor to wear face masks when indoors.

"I think a lot of us believe this coronavirus is overblown a bit,” volunteer Scott Olson told Reuters.

While the Democrats have shuttered field offices and scrapped in-person campaigning to limit virus transmission, local Republican leaders are sticking to traditional campaign methods.

"We're still doing door to door, we're still doing telephone, we're still putting up signs. We're not doing anything really differently than we did four years ago. We're very aware of the fact that that's out there (coronavirus), but we – each of us take our own precautions,” said Al Exner, vice chair of the Republican Party of Sauk County.

With recent polls putting presumptive Democrat nominee Joe Biden ahead in Wisconsin, Republicans say they need to do everything they can to reach voters despite the risks.

In contrast, Democrats are holding their meetings virtually and contacting voters almost entirely by phone.

"If you knock on someone's door, they might get mad at you for exposing them to Covid. And if you're trying to recruit volunteers, good luck in the middle of a pandemic,” explained Ben Wikler, Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

“So, we switched gears to a totally virtual organizing model where our organizers work virtually, the volunteer team leaders work virtually, and they recruit virtual volunteers through virtual organizing."

The different approaches to campaigning during a pandemic have also been seen in the actions of the candidates.

Biden has yet to visit the state in person and cancelled his appearance at the Democratic convention in Milwaukee, which is being held almost entirely virtually.

Trump, however, visited Wisconsin in June and again earlier this week.