Until Tuesday, West’s attempts to get his name on the ballot have focused only on states dominated by Republicans or Democrats in the presidential election. But West’s expected addition to the poll in Wisconsin means the rapper will likely be a choice for voters in a battleground state that is essential for both Trump and Biden to win in November.
“I really like Kanye,” Trump said at the White House Wednesday night. “I have nothing to do with his being on the ballot. I am not involved. ”
Democrats in Wisconsin and elsewhere have called this a blatant attempt to appeal to young black voters who may not be excited about the Biden campaign. Any decline in Biden’s turnout among young black voters, a group the Trump campaign has tried to target in the race against the former vice president, could impact the outcome in traditionally narrow-margin states like the Wisconsin.
West’s campaign affiliates spent much of Tuesday collecting enough signatures to run for the poll in Wisconsin. And the effort appears to have been successful, as Lane Ruhland, a longtime Republican lawyer with ties to the state party and the Trump campaign, filed the signatures with the state’s electoral board near the deadline. West’s signatures have yet to be verified by the electoral committee.
Ruhland has worked for Republicans for years and is listed as one of the attorneys representing the Trump campaign in a lawsuit against a local Wisconsin TV station for an anti-Trump ad aired by super Democrat PAC Priorities USA.
The Wisconsin Republican Party, in a statement to CNN on Wednesday, applauded West’s addition to the ballot and Ruhland’s involvement.
“It appears that Kanye West’s campaign made a smart move in hiring an experienced election lawyer,” said Alesha Guenther, party spokesperson. “We welcome Kanye West and all the other candidates who have qualified for access to the ballot boxes for the race, and we look forward to handing all 10 Wisconsin electoral votes to President Trump. ”
Ruhland did not respond to CNN’s request for comment. But the Wisconsin lawyer isn’t the only Republican agent to help West land on a state ballot.
Gregg Keller, former executive director of the Conservative Union of America and longtime Republican agent, is listed as the campaign contact in Arkansas. And Chuck Wilton, a Vermont Republican who is listed as a prospective voter for an electoral college for Trump, is also listed as a possible voter for West. New York Magazine was the first to report West’s ties to Keller and Wilton.
Wilton’s wife Wendy is also listed as a possible Vermont Republican voter and is appointed by Trump to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Neither Keller nor Wilton responded to CNN’s request for comment.
Despite ties to the president helping West, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh denied any knowledge of West’s efforts in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
“There is no conflict to give up, but we have no knowledge of what Kanye West is doing or who is doing it for him,” Murtaugh said.
West, after years of backing Trump, said last month he would run for president, leading Republicans – including the president himself – to speculate that West’s name on the ballot voting would take votes away from Biden, especially among black voters.
“It shouldn’t be difficult,” Trump tweeted. “Corrupt Joe has done nothing good for black people!” ”
West, until he announced his own presidential candidacy, was close to Trump and made a number of bizarre appearances with the president. He became closer to Trump after his wife, Kim Kardashian West, worked with the president and senior White House officials, including Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, on criminal justice reform.
West’s first campaign event, a rally in South Carolina last month, was an unusual affair that bore no resemblance to a traditional campaign. The rapper – dressed in what looked like a protective vest – made the wrong comments about Harriet Tubman and at one point collapsed crying during the North Charleston event. The apparition has led many to express concerns about his well-being. And days later, his wife made a public statement acknowledging West’s bipolar diagnosis and asking for compassion and empathy.
“Those close to Kanye know his heart and sometimes understand his words do not match his intentions,” she wrote.
Trump’s campaign strategy with black voters is twofold: to court young black men, especially in cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city, and to remove support for Biden.
Some Republicans believe the addition of West could siphon off Biden’s votes in places like Wisconsin. Trump carried the state by fewer than 23,000 voters in 2016, with a substantial drop in the turnout of black voters for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election.
Poll shows Biden has a massive lead among black voters – an analysis of 10 polls by CNN’s Harry Enten in July found Biden to lead among black voters by 83% to 8%, a 75-point margin. While this is a massive lead for Biden, who relied heavily on black voters to win the Democratic primary in 2020, it is a slight improvement for Trump, who edged Clinton 79 points among black voters in the pre-election ballot. 2016.
But Biden’s support among black adults is not monolithic and much stronger among older black adults. A recent Washington Post poll found 87% of black seniors said the former vice president was “sympathetic to the issues of black people in America,” while figure drops to 66% among adults under 40 .
To reduce Biden’s support for black voters, the Trump campaign and the Wisconsin Republican Party have opened an outside office at the corner of North Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. A quote from the murdered civil rights leader is prominently displayed in the window, alongside a red Trump campaign sign, stating, “Hate cannot drive hate.” Only love can do it. ”
Democrats were unsure of the West’s efforts on Wednesday, with some categorically dismissing the effort as laughable and others arguing that ties to the Wisconsin Republican Party and the Trump campaign were a scathing indictment of the lengths of the party in an election.
The Biden campaign and the Wisconsin Democratic Party declined to comment when asked about West on Wednesday. CNN has contacted West’s campaign and has not received a response.
Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor of the state of Wisconsin, tweeted on Wednesday that West’s efforts are “as big as it sounds.”
“A dark twisted fantasy, if you will. A distraction, ”Barnes wrote. “This is what despair looks like. ”
And Cavalier Johnson, chairman of the Milwaukee Common Council, tweeted Wednesday that the inclusion of the West was a “plan to trick enough blacks in Wisconsin to vote @kanyewest to siphon votes from @JoeBiden” .
“They decided to take advantage of a man with a large following and a mental health disorder for political gain,” Johnson wrote, nodding at the rapper’s bipolar disorder. “It’s shameful, pitiful and not surprising. This ruse will only galvanize African Americans and their allies in Milwaukee and statewide to vote for @JoeBiden and end Donald Trump’s White House plot. ”
As of this writing, West is on the ballot in Oklahoma, Illinois and Vermont. In Missouri, West Virginia, Arkansas and now Wisconsin, the rapper took the ballot but the signatures he submitted were not verified.
West’s campaign also submitted signatures on Wednesday in an attempt to stand at the polls in Colorado and Ohio, the latter being an important battleground state for the Biden and Trump campaigns.
Maggie Sheehan, the press secretary in the office of the secretary of state for Ohio, said on Wednesday that a representative from the Western campaign had come forward to appear on the ballot in Ohio, where there is a requirement of 5,000 signatures. West will not automatically appear on the ballot, as his signatures will need to be verified by the Secretary of State.
And in Colorado, Betsy Hart, director of communications for the state secretary of state, told CNN that “Mr. West’s campaign filed the documents with the $ 1,000 filing fee.”
“Our office will still have to verify that the presidential voters filed are registered Colorado voters before its paperwork is confirmed as complete,” Hart said.
There’s a chance West won’t succeed in all of those states where signatures have yet to be verified.
West missed the ballot in many states, including New York, Kansas, Maine, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and South Carolina. Signing deadlines in Ohio, Colorado and Hawaii are Wednesday, while California, Connecticut and Washington are later in the week.
This story has been updated to reflect efforts to get West to vote in Colorado and Ohio, as well as Trump’s comments on Wednesday.