Erin Decker, a Wisconsin Republican, surveyed a room full of like-minded voters who braved the risk of catching coronavirus to watch the results of the presidential election trickle in on Tuesday night.
“Florida is looking really good for President Trump,” Ms Decker said excitedly as early returns showed him leading in the crucial battleground state.
“It seems like a normal election night watch party, despite the pandemic,” added Ms Decker, the Republican party chair in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, a key battleground in an important swing state that is also one of the worst Covid-19 hotspots in the US.
A life-sized cut-out of President Donald Trump looked down over the room, which was filled with 40 or so guests, many of them wearing red or blue Make America Great Again baseball caps. They were hunched over plates of cheese, sausage or pepperoni pizza served up by the Italian eatery booked for the occasion. Virtually no one wore a mask.
Meanwhile, the pandemic raged outside: over the past month, Wisconsin has been one of the US states worst hit by the latest surge in Covid-19 cases, with the state’s seven-day average Covid-19 positivity rate topping 30 per cent in recent days.
“So far, so good,” said Gabe Nudo, as he watched election returns relayed by Fox News, which was playing on widescreen televisions mounted behind the bar.
Mr Trump won Mr Nudo’s home county of Kenosha by only 238 votes in 2016, his closest margin of victory in a state that he won by less than 23,000 votes last time.
Kenosha became the campaign focus of both US presidential candidates in August after a white policeman shot and paralysed a black man, Jacob Blake. Widespread protests broke out, followed by fires, looting and rioting that destroyed several Kenosha businesses. A white teen later killed two protesters as white vigilante groups clashed with rioters.
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Mr Trump visited Kenosha several times during his re-election campaign including in the final hours of the campaign on Monday night. He seized on the violence in Kenosha to bolster his appeal as a “law and order” candidate to win over local white voters.
Five minutes away in a different part of Kenosha — on the other side of the political spectrum — about 40 Democratic supporters gathered in an outdoor car park. They watched the returns in an open tent, for a socially distanced party with a big screen, chicken wings and pizza. Guests bundled in coats as the mercury dropped in the evening after an unseasonably warm winter day.
Kenosha resident Cicely Hunter said the election was an attempt to
undo some of the most obvious racism of the Trump administration.
“We need to move forward instead of continuous moving back,” she said.
The party was organised by Tanya McLean, executive director of Leaders
of Kenosha, a local activist group, and the Service Employees International Union. She said it would have been demoralising, after working to turn out the vote and secure justice for Mr Blake, to watch the results of their hard work alone.
“We’ve been working really hard the last couple months,” she said. “We decided to do it as a family, because we’re like family now.”
Ten minutes later the screen briefly went dark as the WiFi in the lot
A new administration is important, Ms McLean said, but she noted
“Biden is a doorway, not a destination. He has promised the black community certain things, and we’re going to hold him to it.”
In nearby Milwaukee, members of the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter joined a Zoom call to watch election results for their preferred candidate, Mr Biden. The mood on the call turned noticeably glum as Mr Trump appeared to be doing better than expected in early returns from several states.
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