HUDSON, Wis. – Wisconsin found itself a pivotal player in Tuesday night’s presidential election, as the state swung toward Republican Donald Trump and shattered the confidence many Hillary Clinton supporters had that the state would be part of an Upper Midwestern firewall for the Democrat.
About 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Trump was projected as the winner over Clinton in Minnesota’s neighbor to the east.
In Republican-leaning Hudson, bars that normally broadcast sports on their TVs blasted election results instead.
Jeff Tersteeg, a Trump fan nursing a shot of tequila and another drink, could hardly believe it when Fox News called the state for Trump (other news organizations were slower to do so).
“I am shocked,” Tersteeg said. “Hillary lost Wisconsin. It’s a great night.”
Tersteeg revealed that he had been a supporter of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who beat Trump in the Wisconsin primary last spring. He said he voted for Trump “with my nose plugged.”
In Wisconsin’s hard-fought U.S. Senate race, the Republican Sen. Ron Johnson beat back a comeback attempt by Democrat Russ Feingold, whom he unseated six years ago.
Trump had also nailed down a win in Ohio, and was still contending strongly in Michigan, states with similar political makeups to Wisconsin.
It was a surprising development in a state where Democrats won every presidential race since 1988, and it vindicated the Trump campaign’s strategy of repeatedly sending the candidate to the state to campaign — most recently last Tuesday in Eau Claire.
Clinton did not campaign in Wisconsin since the general election got underway, though her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, made several stops there in recent days.
Wisconsin has been one of the nation’s most contentious political battlegrounds in the past few years, as Republicans under the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker pushed through a series of conservative policy changes against ultimately futile opposition by Democrats and their labor allies.
Even as Walker won the state in 2010 and 2014 — and beat back a recall attempt in 2012 — the state swung back to Democrats in the last two presidential cycles. President Obama won Wisconsin by wide margins in both 2008 and 2012.
At Agave Kitchen in Hudson, a group of “Trumpers” watched results until the place closed. While Trump seemed to have a consistent lead from the moment polls started closing around the country, the evening’s ups and downs kept the group on edge as they sipped wine and snacked on appetizers.
“I used to have 6-inch nails,” joked Cassandra Rodriguez, as she held up her fingers.
Around the corner, Kevin Proschwitz spent his fourth straight election night watching results at the dive bar Dick’s. “It’s a tradition,” he said.
He was rooting for Trump, but he said he wasn’t ready to believe his candidate had the election in the bag.
“I’m a Bears fan,” Proschwitz said. “So I expect to lose.”