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May 29, 2024

How one Democrat is trying to maintain Trump country appeal: From the Politics Desk

Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, campaign embed reports from rural Wisconsin, where Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin faces the challenge of running with Donald Trump on the ballot. Plus, chief political analyst Chuck Todd breaks down why Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is receiving interest from voters.

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Tammy Baldwin fights to maintain appeal in Wisconsin’s Trump country

By Sarah Dean

REEDSBURG, Wis. — Dairy farmer Randy Roecker is at a breaking point — and he blames it partly on President Joe Biden, so is planning to vote for Donald Trump for a third time this November.

“Farmers are hurting like you wouldn’t believe, and I myself, I am to the point of throwing up my hands and saying I’m done,” said Roecker, who cited inflation as straining his business for the last two years.

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But while he’s planning to vote on booting the Democratic president, Roecker’s also planning to vote to keep his Democratic senator, Tammy Baldwin.

“I support her all the way. I mean, no question,” Roecker said. “And everybody I know — the farmers — everybody says that she’s great for Wisconsin agriculture.” 

Baldwin is bracing for a tough re-election race against likely Republican nominee Eric Hovde, a multimillionaire and bank owner, in the evenly divided Wisconsin, one of a handful of states that will determine which party controls the Senate. But she has the advantage of incumbency, and has often outperformed other statewide Democrats in rural areas, even as the party as a whole has lost significant ground in those regions in recent decades.

Baldwin is already pouring more effort into rural campaigning this year as she prepares for the challenge of sharing the ballot with one of the forces driving GOP margins in rural areas sky-high. Unlike her first two races for the Senate, in 2012 and 2018, Donald Trump will be running this November, too.

Late last month, Baldwin sat around a kitchen table with Roecker and others from the Farmer Angel Network for a 90-minute discussion about farmers’ mental health. The event was part of the senator’s “Dairyland” tour through 19 counties, none of them among Wisconsin’s five most populated counties.

“I think that there has been a real opportunity for me to be a champion for issues that I might not hear about if I only was going to the population centers of the state,” Baldwin told reporters at a stop at the New Glarus Brewing Co.  

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Why you shouldn’t discount voters’ interest in RFK Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.Mario Tama / Getty Images

Analysis by Chuck Todd

What happens when an electorate wants change but there’s no obvious change candidate on the ballot?

This question popped into my head after I watched one of the fascinating monthly focus groups organized by Rich Thau, the president of the research group Engagious, with the latest edition convening Pennsylvania voters who voted once for either Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton and once for Donald Trump.

The headline-grabber for this month’s check-in was the surprising level of interest in Robert F. Kennedy Jr. among these swing voters. In some ways, this shouldn’t be a surprise. These voters are by definition not hard partisans, and they certainly aren’t pleased with either major party, as they’ve been comfortable voting against both of them over the last two elections. 

As I wrote months ago, there was always going to be a moment in this campaign cycle when both major parties had finished their nominating processes and selected Biden and Trump — and yet the public wasn’t satisfied with that outcome. We are at that moment.

With no mainstream third-party alternative available for now, that vacuum is being filled by Kennedy. For many voters, one can tell, he’s simply a famous name filling a void. You can hear the lack of knowledge many of these Pennsylvania voters had about Kennedy other than his name, and those who knew something about him knew only a few things. Moreover, it was clear that his best asset was the fact that his last name was neither Trump nor Biden. 

Watching the initial interest in Kennedy’s candidacy among these voters serves as a reminder that there was a powerful opportunity for a true potential unity ticket — not one that professed “centrism” per se, but one that promised to take a partisan timeout for four years and attempt to focus on hard choices to solve hard problems, like immigration.

But given the stakes of this election, it has also been clear to me that while an opening exists with the true middle-of-the-road or less partisan crowd, the lane is very narrow. And unless partisans from one or both parties also wanted an alternative, there really wasn’t a path to victory.

But there is a path to relevancy.

Read more from Chuck here →

🗞️ Today’s top stories

  • ⚖️ Open and shut: The Democratic-controlled Senate rejected House Republicans’ impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas after just three hours of deliberation. Read more →
  • 🙅 Blocked again: For the second time in two weeks, Arizona Republican lawmakers quashed a Democratic-led effort to repeal the near-total abortion ban that the state Supreme Court upheld. Read more →
  • 🧾 Johnson’s next move: HouseSpeaker Mike Johnson released three bills providing aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, with the hope of holding final votes on Saturday. Read more →
  • 📺 Revenge of the speaker: An outside group with ties to an ally of Kevin McCarthy has launched new ads targeting three House Republicans who voted to oust him as speaker. Read more →
  • 💰 Sharing is caring: Trump’s campaign is asking Republicans who use his name, image or likeness for fundraising to send a portion of the money to the presumptive GOP nominee’s coffers. Read more →
  • 🗓️ No days off: Trump’s hush money trial wasn’t in today, but that didn’t stop the former president from complaining about the jury selection process. Read more →
  • 3️⃣ Trifecta re-secured: Democrats won two special state House elections in battleground Michigan on Tuesday, regaining control of not just the chamber, but the entire state government. Read more →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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