Democrats Worry About Losing Support in Swing States after Unrest in Wisconsin

A view of a building destroyed from riots responding to the death of Jacob Blake who shot by police in Kenosha, Wis., August 26, 2020. (Stephen Maturen/Reuters)

Democrats fear they may be losing traction in swing states as news of looting and violent rioting in Kenosha, Wis. after the police shooting of Jacob Blake stokes public safety concerns.

It had already been a turbulent summer in America before unrest broke out in Kenosha, as cities nationwide saw widespread protests and riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death in May. 

With less than three months left before the election, President Trump and other Republicans have repeatedly sent the message that Democrats, many of whom have been responded positively to protestors’ calls to defund the police, have allowed demonstrators and violence to take over cities. 

“So let me be clear: The violence must stop, whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha,” Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday night in his Republican National Convention speech. “We will have law and order on the streets of this country for every American of every race and creed and color.”

In a new Politico report, many Democrats in the battleground state of Wisconsin voiced concern that the chaos in Kenosha feeds into the picture Trump has painted of a country run by the radical left. 

Democrats worry that the more violence voters, especially suburban swing voters, witness, the more they will lose sympathy for Black Lives Matter. On Tuesday evening demonstrations in Kenosha turned deadly when three people were shot, two fatally, after a confrontation between rioters and armed citizens who were trying to protect local businesses. 

“There’s no doubt it’s playing into Trump’s hands,” said Paul Soglin, who served as mayor of Madison, on and off, for over 20 years. “There’s a significant number of undecided voters who are not ideological, and they can move very easily from Republican to the Democratic column and back again. They are, in effect, the people who decide elections. And they are very distraught about both the horrendous carnage created by police officers in murdering African Americans, and … for the safety of their communities.”

Prior to the unrest in Kenosha, a CNBC/Change Research swing state poll had Biden leading Trump 49 percent to 44 percent. It is unclear how much of an effect the destruction in the city will have on voters.

One Kenosha resident, Ronald Grover, expressed concern that Biden “wants to take our guns” while his wife Liz Parsilas stood on their porch with a gun to protect her family because she didn’t trust law enforcement to do it. On one night of the rioting, the family watched a parade of people walk by with semi-automatic weapons as she cautioned her 11-year-old son to “stay low” when he heard explosions or gunfire. 

John “Sly” Sylvester, a longtime Democrat and radio personality who has been active in the labor movement, told Politico he is worried Democrats have a “blind spot” to rioters and looters. 

“I think there are some people on the left who don’t understand the concept of how important public safety is to people,” Sylvester said. “We all saw the shooting and are deeply troubled by it, but that doesn’t negate the need for public safety.”

A number of formerly political agnostic residents of Kenosha told the New York Times that Democrats’ hesitance to condemn the rioting in their city had swayed them toward voting for Trump, or not voting at all, in November.

“I’m not 100 percent sure of anything yet,” said John Geraghty, a 41-year-old factory worker. “But as of now I’m really not happy about how Democrats are handling any of this.”

Scott Haight, a 59-year-old lifelong Democrat, said he was disillusioned by the Democrats’ response to the rioting and had decided not to cast a vote in November.

“It’s not worth it,” he said. “One’s as bad as the other.”

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