With political polarization at a 20-year high, the Coulee Region is among a shrinking number of places where voters split their votes in federal elections.
Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District is now considered the most evenly split in the nation, according to the Cook Political Report.
The group’s 2017 Partisan Voter Index report, released last week, found Wisconsin’s 3rd and Minnesota’s 1st congressional districts are now considered to be among the 10 most Republican-leaning areas with Democratic representatives.
In the 3rd, which covers much of western Wisconsin and includes all but the northeast corner of Monroe County, President Donald Trump won by 4.5 points in November’s election, while Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Kind was elected to an 11th term with no opposition. Across the Mississippi River, voters narrowly re-elected Democrat Tim Walz to a sixth term while also handing Trump a 14.5-point victory.
Both districts were also among only 35 where voters “crossed over” — casting a majority of votes for presidential and House candidates from different parties. That’s less than a third the number of cross-over districts two decades earlier.
Walz and Kind are two of only nine Democrats to win in districts that flipped from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. The 3rd District is also among the 25 with the most dramatic four-year shifts to the right.
The Cook Report assigns a “partisan voting index” to each district, based on its performance in the past two presidential elections. A district that votes 2 points more Democratic than the national average would be scored D+2; one where the Republican candidate fared 2 points better would be R+4. Those that were within a half point of the average are considered “even.”
Wisconsin’s Third District went from D+5 to even.
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist Joe Heim said it remains to be seen if the shift is part of a trend or a fluke.
“You’ve got to see trends like that over a period of years,” he said. “I don’t know whether it was Trump, Hillary or just a desire for change in certain areas.”
Kind, who easily survived a primary challenge from the left, said voters appreciate his independence, which could be more important than ever as the district is now considered evenly split.
“I’ve been around for a while,” he said. “People have gotten to know me.”
He also said the Clinton campaign’s complacency — she did not set foot in Wisconsin after the Democratic primary — was a factor in Trump’s victory.
Republicans have already taken note of the shift: Both Kind and Walz were on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s list of top Democratic targets for the 2018 election.
Walz, a centrist Democrat, has since entered the Minnesota governor’s race, increasing the GOP’s chances of taking back the seat, which they held for 12 years before Walz was first elected in 2006.
Kind announced last month that he will not run for governor, putting to rest years of speculation.