LA CROSSE, Wis. — La Crosse, a college town in western Wisconsin 365 miles down the Mississippi River, is surrounded. Once the capital of a rural, Democratic voting bloc that cleanly ensconced the southwestern quarter of the state, the 2016 election left La Crosse County alone, hemmed in on every side by counties that flipped red for Donald Trump.
The populist, working-class-focused remaking of the Republican Party Trump and his allies led that year saw a shift in American politics, with states like Wisconsin becoming a microcosm of those changes. The “Paul Ryan wing” of the state GOP, based in the once safely Republican Milwaukee suburbs, has felt a tightening in the polls driven by defections from college-educated women. At the same time, large swathes of western Wisconsin made up for the loss, delivering the Badger State to the GOP for the first time since Ronald Reagan’s re-election.
La Crosse is among the most bustling places we’ve been so far,