Ryan’s Kenosha a Bellwether County

Kenosha County, Wisconsin, home to Ocean Spray and one of the fastest growing counties in the country, is in Paul Ryan’s home district.

And Kenosha County is small — just under 170,000 residents — but they make a difference. The county has been a reliable bellwether for Wisconsin since 1988 and reliably Democratic for even longer. Obama may have won Wisconsin with a comfortable 14-point margin, but both John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000 barely eked out victories against George W. Bush — the margin of victory was less than one-half of one percentage point.

Matthew Dowd — former chief strategist for President George W. Bush and now independent — suggests, “Wisconsin is now a pure swing state because of the Ryan pick. Kenosha was a key county in those elections. The last Republican to win Wisconsin was Ronald Reagan in 1984. This might be the time for the tide to turn from blue to red, since half the ticket hails from their hometown. In 1980 and 1984, Kenosha went for the Democrats, while Wisconsin’s electoral votes went to Ronald Reagan in both elections.


Mitt Romney grew up in Oakland County, but don’t expect that to be the prime mover among the electorate. Dowd predicts, “As Oakland goes, so will Michigan go. The auto industry’s comeback has positioned President Obama well there.” Obama and Romney did not even advertise in the 30 days ended Aug. 6, but three Republican-leaning outside groups did: American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS, and Restore Our Future. The three put up a total of 921 ads, of which all but 81 were negative.

Both Oakland and Kenosha counties have unemployment rates that peaked over 12% in 2009 and have since come down by about a third, so they’re still above the national average, but in the 8.5 percent range.

Dowd has already looked at Fairfax County, Virginia; Orange County, Florida; and Hamilton County, Ohio. Still to come — counties in Florida, Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina and New Hampshire, among others.

Lauren Vicary contributed to this post.

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