Biden aims to win Wisconsin and Michigan by leaning heavily on more popular women

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

MIDDLETON, Wis. — Inside a modest ranch-style house in this suburb of Madison, Democrats from across southern Wisconsin recently met at a standing-room-only gathering billed as one of several formal campaign launch events for President Joe Biden and other candidates throughout the crucial battleground state.

They were all there to see Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Like Biden, Baldwin — a well-funded Democratic incumbent — faces re-election this fall. Her race could help determine the balance of power of the Senate.

But unlike Biden, Baldwin has enjoyed strong favorability ratings in the state and benefits from unabashed and enthusiastic support from Democrats almost everywhere she shows up.

She’s one of two popular Midwestern female surrogates — along with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — whom the Biden campaign is planning to rely heavily on to win the two key battleground states.


Policywise, there’s little daylight between the president and Baldwin, who is seeking her third term and faces Republican businessman Eric Hovde, and Whitmer, who won re-election in 2022 by more than 10 percentage points. Both women, like Biden, have focused heavily on reproductive rights, defending democracy and the economy.

But given Biden’s challenges in Wisconsin and Michigan, where in both his approval ratings are underwater, his campaign is poised to substantially lean on Baldwin and Whitmer — and even let them lead the way.

“The unified and early support from elected officials in all our battleground states has allowed us to leverage state party investments, years-long political networks and infrastructure already on-the-ground to build the strongest operation possible," Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, told NBC News in a statement. "That’s particularly true in Michigan and Wisconsin where we are enormously grateful to Governor Whitmer and Senator Baldwin.”

It’s not unusual for statewide elected lawmakers to enjoy stronger popularity in their states than an incumbent president from the same party. They’re known commodities, far more familiar with state and local issues, and, in some cases, better equipped to understand the nuances of the different regions of their state.

Perhaps most importantly, they’re around a lot more — unlike presidents, who, understandably, tend to parachute into battleground states only in election years.

Even so, in Wisconsin, Baldwin is uniquely positioned to help Biden.

Over her 12 years in the Senate, Baldwin has fashioned herself a proponent of pro-worker policies — a posture that has helped her maintain strong support in working-class and industrial areas of the state (like the western region along the Mississippi River, the Iron Range and Kenosha) where national Democrats have bled support in recent cycles. It’s no coincidence that her first ad in her re-election campaign, which went on the air this month, focused heavily on that theme.

Her bona fides on social issues are also robust, which helps keep her in high standing among progressive voters in the Democratic centers of Milwaukee and Madison. (Baldwin was the first openly gay person elected to the Senate, and she’s been a lead author on measures that would codify Roe v. Wade at the federal level and a marriage equality bill, signed into law in 2022, that codified same-sex marriage protections.)

It’s a one-two punch that makes her a multidimensional campaigner who can amplify many of the same messages Biden is running on in the state.

In an interview with NBC News, Baldwin didn’t dispute that she was actively attempting to help Biden with vastly different types of voters in the state — but also signaled she was eager to remind voters she couldn’t have gotten anything done without his support.

“Obviously, I’m the senator for Wisconsin. I’ve had a chance over the time that I’ve served in the Senate to really be in all parts of the state, to listen to the challenges that different communities face and really gotten to work — and I think that word gets out,” she said.

But, she added, “a lot of the successes that I’ve had of late obviously require a Biden signature on a bill.”

Recently, the style of her office’s communications has even appeared at times to indirectly coach the Biden administration into how to target specific groups of voters.

Last month, for example, she announced that she and Gov. Tony Evers, a fellow Democrat, had “successfully pushed” Biden to send emergency funds to wintertime businesses in northern Wisconsin that had been hurt by a lack of snow. Her office has made similar announcements about having “successfully pushed” the administration to implement strong Buy America standards and brought attention to its efforts to urge the White House to pay closer attention to how the migrant crisis is affecting rural Wisconsin communities.

Asked whether messages like that were explicitly intended to communicate Biden’s accomplishments in the state because voters like her more, Baldwin said, “I hope to run a campaign that will benefit Democrats up and down the ticket.”

“I hope that I’ll run the type of campaign for re-election that lifts all,” she added.

A Democratic operative in the state said the Baldwin and Biden teams were in close coordination on that approach and that the Biden team was fully on board.

“The Biden team knows that the smart play is leaning on strong electeds like Tammy Baldwin and Gretchen Whitmer to say this is where my voters are at, and come join me in these efforts,” the operative said.

That said, Biden has been no stranger to the pivotal state. He’s visited Wisconsin four times in the last 12 months, including last week in Milwaukee. Vice President Kamala Harris has also come to the state three times in the same stretch.

Democratic voters have signaled that the strategy is a good move.

“I think we’re going to see [more of] Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” said JoAnna Richard, the co-chair of Middleton’s Democratic organization, who hosted the recent event showcasing Baldwin.

But “Tammy Baldwin is going to carry them,” she added. “Tammy has this blueprint of how you win in Wisconsin — and win decisively in Wisconsin.”


The same dynamic has been on display in Michigan, where Whitmer, less than 18 months ago, easily cruised to re-election on a platform — just like Biden’s this year — built primarily around reproductive rights, defending democracy and a strong economy.

As a co-chair of the Biden re-election effort, Whitmer barnstormed the state ahead of Michigan’s Feb. 27 Democratic primary, meeting with voters, leading canvassing efforts and voter registration drives and kicking off phone-banking events. Weeks earlier, she held a “Stop the Bans, Get Out the Vote” rally timed to the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, designed to turn out women for Biden this year by leaning hard into attacks that Republicans would further erode women’s reproductive rights.

Her political action committee, Fight Like Hell PAC, held or supported nearly 30 events in February alone intended to boost Biden in the state.

As governor, Whitmer signed a package of laws that repealed many of the remaining restrictions on abortion care in her state (Michigan voters enshrined the right to abortions in the state constitution in 2022), further elevating her national profile on an issue that has driven critical turnout for Democrats.

But while she and Biden are nearly identical in how they approach the issue from a policy perspective, the push hasn’t exactly translated into any material support for his re-election bid in Michigan or elsewhere. Some Democrats have questioned whether Biden is the right spokesperson for the issue, while recent polling has shown his job approval and favorability ratings in the state remain mired underwater. (The same polling shows that Whitmer’s ratings in both categories are strong.)

“What I’m telling Michiganders is that there is a stark choice in front of us,” Whitmer said in a statement to NBC News. “We can have Joe Biden, who has worked to lower families’ costs, bring the supply chain back to Michigan, and make insulin more affordable. Or we can have Donald Trump, who would ship auto jobs back to China, cut Social Security and Medicare, and ban abortion nationwide, even here in our state.”

Democrats have made clear that Whitmer will continue to be an integral part of the Biden team’s messaging on reproductive rights, both in Michigan and nationally, and they are hopeful that the positives she’s had with the approach rub off on the president.

Some Republicans have taken notice.

“I think it’ll be significant,” Michigan GOP state Sen. Ed McBroom said of Whitmer’s role. “She’s a very skilled politician. She seems to be able to get under Donald Trump’s skin at times.”

Others, however, pointed out that Whitmer’s already prominent role hasn’t yet stanched any of the bleeding that polling shows Biden has endured in the state.

“She’ll be out there. She’ll be vocal. But I mean, I think there’s a difference between people voting for her and people voting for the people she’s supporting,” a Republican operative working on a Michigan race said. “Despite her and Biden being on mostly the same page, he’s 15-20 points behind her. It remains to see how much she can really share some of her positives with other candidates.”

That question remains in Wisconsin, too, where voters in recent interviews made clear their enthusiasm gap between Baldwin and Biden.

“Oh my god, I love Tammy Baldwin. I will go out of my way for her,” said Patti Prostko, a retired educator from Kenosha, an industrial city bordering Illinois. Baldwin won Kenosha County in 2018 by nearly 14 percentage points; Biden lost it in 2020 by 3.

“If I have to, I will fight for Tammy Baldwin,” added Prostko. “She’s everything.”

Asked about her thoughts on Biden, she replied, “I know that he is slipping.”

But Prostko will still be voting for him.

“I’d rather have Biden than Trump,” she said.

This article was originally published on