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What Wisconsin Voters Are Prioritizing In The 2020 Presidential Election


Of course, Wisconsin is one of the key swing states where presidential candidates are fighting for every single vote. We're taking a closer look at that state as part of a series that focuses on what voters around the country may be thinking. Reporter Maayan Silver of member station WUWM in Milwaukee joins us. Maayan, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Of course, we ought to begin with the latest - President Trump's announcement that he's tested positive for coronavirus. He had two rallies planned in Wisconsin. And we should note the state, of course, has become a COVID hot spot. Those rallies have been canceled. What do you hear from his supporters?

SILVER: Yeah, so even though the president tested positive, supporters I spoke with still stood by his handling of the pandemic. So I went to Waukesha yesterday. It's a Republican stronghold. And I caught some voters. Most said China was to blame and if the president did downplay anything, it was to prevent panic. But some were concerned about the president. Here's what Alan Ciesemier, who's a retiree, said.

ALAN CIESEMIER: He should've been wearing a mask, in my opinion. It's nice to say everyone should wear a mask, and I think it's the right thing to do. The trouble is, how do you enforce it?

SILVER: Seasmire mentioned masks. We should note that the Republican lawmakers in the state filed a motion to block the governor's mask mandate here. And over 17,000 people in Wisconsin have become infected in the past week alone, including U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, who just announced this morning that he tested positive for the coronavirus. And some hospitals in the state are actually struggling to cope.

SIMON: President Trump won Wisconsin in 2016, and that represented a dramatic shift in the way the state had voted for more than 30 years. What do you see there now?

SILVER: Yeah, the state tipped in Trump's favor, in part because Democrats did not turn out voters around the state, including Black voters in Milwaukee. It's a strong voting bloc for the party. There's also a pronounced urban-rural divide here, with cities being oases of Democratic voters and the more rural areas trending Republican. But some Republican voters of 2016 might flip this year. So I spoke to Kim Regner (ph), who's a hemp farmer from rural Cedar Grove. She voted for Trump in 2016 but won't this time around.

KIM REGNER: I think a lot of it is just the demeanor that he gives. He doesn't seem like he's really supportive of a lot of people. And certain things, he's morally, I find, kind of repulsive. And I just - I'm very afraid that he's more just for himself.

SILVER: So Regner said she didn't see Trump as a true Republican. And we should also note that Wisconsin tends to have one of the highest turnout rates in the country. So really, it could be neck and neck.

SIMON: Racial justice protests and counterprotests have become local, personal issues there in Wisconsin following the August police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. How do you think this has affected voters?

SILVER: So most conservatives I spoke with liked Trump's law and order message, but no one really said it was convincing them to vote for him. They pretty much already liked him. Democrats, though, did say that they were motivated by the rights of Black people. So here's Greg Adams Sr. (ph). He rode his bicycle to Port Washington's farmers market.

GREG ADAMS SR: I'm 67. I just turned 67 this week. And we're still talking about some of the same issues that I marched for when I was 12 years old. My dad used to take me to marches, and we're still talking about that. But we have a president who is divisive, who talks divisive and sends cues to people.

SIMON: And what do you hear from rural voters who, in Wisconsin, tend to vote Republican often?

SILVER: So I went to a farmers market and a fall festival in rural areas of Wisconsin. On the way, I saw lots of houses and farms with Trump signs and American flags. But it really wasn't COVID or the Supreme Court vacancy that was top of mind for these voters. Some said they support Trump because of the economy. They like his tax cuts and trade war with China. Many were social and cultural conservatives. They were concerned about the Second Amendment and things like that.

SIMON: And quickly, undecided voters - are there any?

SILVER: There are a few. Most people were strongly in one camp or the other, but Ashley Heun was pretty in the middle on politics and torn who to vote for.

ASHLEY HEUN: Democrats - I do like their platform on health care ideas. Republicans - I'm very pro-life, and that's probably where I kind of lean that way often.

SILVER: The biggest issues for her are economic - taxes and help for small businesses like hers. She's watching to see how things develop this month.

SIMON: Maayan Silver, thanks so much for being with us.

SILVER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maayan Silver is an intern with WUWM's Lake Effect program. She is a practicing criminal defense attorney, NPR listener and student of journalism and radio production.