Sawyer County, WI — Sawyer County is one of the state’s most popular Northwoods, outdoor escape destinations.
In the summer, it’s where you fish for world record musky.
In the winter, it’s where people come from all over the world to race in cross-country skis.
There are lumberjack competitions, and real lumberjacks, who cut down trees for a living.
But maybe the most incredible thing about Sawyer County is something very few people know about.
Dating back nearly 60 years, every presidential candidate who wins the county, ultimately ends up in the White House.
From Donald Trump to LBJ, Sawyer County is one of only a few nationwide to correctly predict the winners of the last 14 presidential elections.
So we went there to get to know the people and economy that make up the ultimate swing county, and get an early read on how it will vote next year.
Paul DeMain feels right at home in his Hayward Trading Post store. Proud of the products he sells, and the story of how it came to be nearly two decades ago.
But the store is set to close for good. The CD’s, t-shirts and books sold there are now more popular in the digital world.
“You can get everything online nowadays,” said DeMain.
Yet internet access is hard to come by in the county.
“We still don’t have high speed internet in a lot of places. I think we’re on dial up phones in a lot of cases,” said DeMain.
Problems that are impacting a lot of other Hayward shops and businesses.
But Demain is something of a rarity in Sawyer County. He doesn’t let the state of the local economy, or the type of candidate running, impact his political vote.
“I vote democrat about 98-percent of the time,” said DeMain.
The longtime liberal activist says voting along party lines puts him in the Sawyer County minority.
“There seems to be a middle group of people that move back and forth. When you look at who swung to Trump in the democratic party, you have farmers,” said DeMain.
Just outside the heart of Hayward, we found Tweed Shuman feeding his cows. A man who wears many hats, uniquely focused on the success of rural America.
“We have a lot of farmers and ranchers in this county and America and I always want to support them,” said Shuman.
He says that’s why he voted the way he did in 2016.
“I did support the republican candidate. I would not say it was a bad decision. I think we’ve toed the line. I really don’t think we’ve gone backwards. As far as rural america, we’ve stayed sustainable,” said Shuman.
He says the trade war hasn’t leached into his beef business, but is worried it could. And in true Sawyer County fashion, he’s undecided for how he will vote in 2020.
“I want to hear who we’re going to come through with the democratic front-runners, and there could be an independent person too. I’m going to vote for who I feel will move us ahead,” said Shuman.
Looking at how Sawyer County has voted in the last four Presidential elections:
According to CNN, Bush won the county by six points in 2004. In 2008, Obama won by six points. In 2012, Obama won by less than a point. And in 2016, Trump won by 18 points.
Paul Mitchell is the Sawyer County Record GM and has called the county home for 25 years, studying what makes it a place that goes back and forth politically.
He says from vacationing lake folks, to the sprawling LCO reservation, to the residents of Hayward, there is big income disparity and a feeling of geographic and economic isolation.
“It always seems like we’re about three years behind national trends and it seems like growth in online shopping is hitting our economy now,” said Mitchell.
He believes presidential candidates who offer new ideas to boost the economy tend to do well, as do more unique candidates.
“I think people in Sawyer County really like people with independent personalities, people with strong personalities and non-establishment ideas, and that’s why they voted for Trump,” said Mitchell.
Ashley Shuman works on her father-in-laws farm just outside downtown Hayward. She says she voted for Trump in 2016.
She’s part of the new generation of Sawyer County voter, working on her father-in-law’s farm, but also for a non-profit in downtown Hayward, with political influence stemming from both.
“I have an upbringing that is really far more conservative, but I also live in a time when I’m surrounded by a lot of liberal ideals and I identify with a lot of them,” said Shuman.
A mother of two who values improvements to education and the lives of farmers, she is re-thinking her 2016 vote.
“I’m not necessarily happy with the decision I made. I just feel like part of the things I value in general are human decency and morals and being kind, and those are not things that I feel that candidate stands for,” said Shuman.
Back at Paul Demain’s soon-to-be-shuttered Hayward shop, he feels confident about how Sawyer County will vote in 2020.
“I think it’s gonna flip,” said DeMain.
And the longtime cornerstone of the community has advice for anyone running to be leader of the free world.
“If you want to be President of the United States, you better come visit Sawyer County,” said DeMain.
We also polled each of the three voters on the topic of impeachment.
Paul DeMain, who describes himself as liberal, says he supports the inquiry, and would like to see President Trump impeached now.
Tweed Shuman, who voted for Trump in ’16 but is undecided for 2020, says he supports the inquiry, but is unsure about whether the president should be impeached.
And Ashley Shuman, who voted for Trump and is undecided for 2020, also supports the inquiry, but wants to see what happens next before deciding whether the President should be ousted.