In battleground Wisconsin, GOP opens front in Milwaukee

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In this on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, photo, Elizabeth Brown, a candidate for the 7th Aldermanic District in Milwaukee, holds a campaign flyer at the GOP's new office in the city. The campaign office is the GOP's first-ever in the heart of Milwaukee, a Democratic stronghold, showing Republicans' renewed effort to capture minority voters. Brown's contest is non-partisan but she's running to replace a Democratic incumbent. (AP Photo/Ivan Moreno)

MILWAUKEE, Wis. – The Wisconsin Republican Party has opened its first-ever office in the heart of downtown Milwaukee, one of the clearest signs yet of the party's push to cut into Democrats' advantage among minority voters and the latest indication of how hard-fought every vote will be in the battleground state.

The office will serve as the base for the party's minority outreach coordinator and serve as a hub for Republican events, campaign organizing and efforts to connect with black and Hispanic people in Milwaukee, party leaders told The Associated Press.

“We want to be a part of the community,” Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt told the AP. “We want to make sure they know there is a choice."

Both major parties have stressed the importance of reaching every possible voter in the swing state. President Donald Trump carried the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in the 2016 election, fueled by high turnout among Republicans in rural areas and a drop in Democratic voters in Milwaukee, which is home to more than 69% of Wisconsin's black voters.

Republicans may not win in Milwaukee — Hillary Clinton got 77% of the city's vote in 2016 — but “we need to make the Democrats fight for those votes,” said Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party.

In 2016, black turnout was down about 7 percentage points nationally compared with 2012, according to census estimates. In Wisconsin, the drop-off among black voters was steeper — 20%, based on a study by the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group.

Democrats have been making a concerted push to turn it around. That includes choosing Milwaukee to host the national convention in July, when the Democrats will nominate their candidate to take on Trump. But it also involves a lot of organizing on the ground to connect with voters who stayed home in 2016.

Angela Lang leads Black Leaders Organizing Communities, a group that formed after the 2016 election to better reach black voters in Milwaukee.