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Both parties heading Midwest in sign of region's sway on 2024 hopes

The Chicago skyline is seen along Chicago River Nov. 28, 2022, in Chicago. Democrats have chosen Chicago to host their 2024 national convention. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)
The Chicago skyline is seen along Chicago River Nov. 28, 2022, in Chicago. Democrats have chosen Chicago to host their 2024 national convention. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)
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Both political parties will head to the Midwest during the closing stretch of the 2024 presidential campaign in a showing of the region’s importance to each side’s prospects of securing control of the White House and Congress.

Democrats announced on Tuesday that their national convention will be held Aug. 19-22 in Chicago next year. Republicans have already announced that they will head to Milwaukee for the 2024 convention from July 15-18.

The Republican National Committee is also holding its first presidential primary debate in Milwaukee in August.

“The next President of the United States will be on our debate stage, and we look forward to hosting a fair and transparent platform for our great candidates to debate and share our winning Republican message with voters across the country,” Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said.

Several states in the region will be vital for either candidate to secure the White House and have flipped between parties over the last two elections. Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania all voted for then-Republican nominee Donald Trump in the 2016 election and then swung to the Democrats’ column in 2020 and sent their electoral votes to President Joe Biden.

Midwestern states like Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania have multiple toss-up House districts, and it would only take a handful of flips in the 2024 election to decide a majority.

Control of the Senate could also be determined in the Midwest, where multiple Democratic incumbents will need to hold off Republican challengers in what is also a difficult map for the party. Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania have all announced reelection campaigns, and there is an open seat in Michigan with the upcoming retirement of Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

“It's critical for both parties,” said Jonathan Hanson, a lecturer at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan and a former congressional staffer. “Wisconsin, I think is front-and-center and right close to that and Michigan and Pennsylvania. The Republicans really need to win at least one of those (states).”

Both parties are placing an emphasis on the Midwest during this cycle, but the location of nominating conventions hasn’t had mixed results on the electoral impact in recent elections.

Democrats held their convention in North Carolina in 2012 and Pennsylvania in 2016 but went on to lose those states in the general election. Republicans went to Minnesota in 2008 and Florida in 2012 and lost both times. In 2020, both parties won the state that hosted their convention — Wisconsin for Democrats and North Carolina for Republicans — but they were mostly virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Picking a particular city that has certain messaging value potentially assuming things go well, and it's a well-run convention,” said Tim Hagle, political science professor at the University of Iowa. “In terms of the other stuff that goes on there, I don't know that people really care that much.”

After Democrats approved plans to switch up their nominating calendar and take away Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status, they faced criticisms of abandoning the Midwest and rural voters. Republican lawmakers were quick to make that observation after the move was announced.

“A total slap in the face to Iowans and rural America. Iowa Democrats should be ashamed of themselves. An incredible loss for our state,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa said in December.

Republicans have had a growing advantage in rural counties over the last several elections while Democratic support has been concentrated in urban centers and the surrounding suburbs.

“It wasn't just so much that the Democrats were criticized for abandoning the Midwest, but it's also kind of the rural side of things, too,” Hagle said. “And obviously picking those big urban areas doesn't alleviate at least that aspect to it.”

Gaining some ground in rural America is something the party is looking to improve on and hopes showcasing the Midwest can help accomplish that.

“Democrats do need to recognize that they that they should be competing in all geographies, that even though their base is shifted towards the more urban parts of states that they need to run strong candidates everywhere and not neglect voters,” Hanson said.

The 2024 elections are still 18 months away, but candidates are already well into campaign mode in many races trying to secure support.

“The issues are going to be important and it's gonna be interesting to see what issues what issues in particular the Democrats are going to emphasize. In the midterms, they really leaned heavily on the abortion issue and in many places that worked for them,” Hagle said.

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“If the Democrats are going to lean heavily on those things, will that be a successful strategy for them? Republicans are probably going to focus a little bit more on the economy, which they usually do. Does that make a difference in some of these open states? How's the messaging going to be? We'll see.”

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