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Politics & Government

Wisconsin Primary Could Clarify The Direction Of GOP, Democratic Races

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Today's primaries in Wisconsin are so important to both parties that candidates have been crisscrossing the state and throwing money into ads. Wisconsin could also be a crucial battleground in November. For some insight into what people there are thinking, we reached Van Mobley. He is the village president - the equivalent of mayor - of the Milwaukee suburb of Thiensville. Thank you very much for joining us.

VAN MOBLEY: Thank you, Renee, for having me.

MONTAGNE: Now, I understand you have endorsed Donald Trump in the Republican primary. Why do you think he's right for Wisconsin?

MOBLEY: From my perspective, he's against common core. I don't think that's the way we want to go on education. And I think that the trade deal - the TPP trade deal - needs to be renegotiated. I think it's too favorable to the finance and the tech sector and not favorable enough to manufacturing and agriculture. And those are two very important industries in the state. And then third, I prefer his foreign policy approach, which I think is more realistic and less interventionist than some of the other Republican candidates.

MONTAGNE: How do those issues rate across the state?

MOBLEY: Well, I mean, different issues resonate differently in different areas. And if we just sort of related it to the Republican primary, I would say, you know, Donald Trump has shown a lot of strength out West - that is in the more rural and western areas - some towns. Kasich has shown a lot of strength in the Dane County area, where Madison is. And around the Milwaukee suburbs, where I am actually, Cruz is showing a lot of strength.

MONTAGNE: So in the western areas that you're speaking of, these are rural areas. They are still - some of them - mired in high unemployment, where that wouldn't be true of, say, you said, Madison. Madison is, of course, university town, very famously liberal, Berkeley of the Midwest. And that would be Kasich. And then when you speak of Ted Cruz's strength in where you are, why would that be the case?

MOBLEY: Well, I think one of the things is there're a lot of talk radio hosts that have really been anti-Trump for a long time. Now, they weren't always pro-Cruz. A lot of the times they were for Rubio or, frankly, for the favorite son, Scott Walker, before he got out of the race. So they've kind of gradually come to Cruz. I think that really the battleground is, you know, the old industrial manufacturing areas in the state - which way they're going to jump. And I think that those areas should jump for Trump. And I think that's good for the state. I think the agricultural areas also, as well, represent people voting their interests. And I think they're - you know, they're smart. Some - one of the reasons why Sanders gets a lot of support in the state too is because people understand the basis of our economy. And they understand that trade deals shape the outlook for those sectors.

MONTAGNE: Your candidate, Donald Trump, though, has had a very tough week in Wisconsin - partly because Wisconsin's popular Republican Gov. Scott Walker endorsed Ted Cruz, plus Trump's own remarks on punishing women for abortions, on the arrest of his campaign manager for assault. Has much harm been done, do you think?

MOBLEY: You know, the people of this state are notoriously independent. I love them for that independence, but it's very difficult then to tell what they're going to do. I talked to the people who live behind me. I talked to them last night. They're Cruz voters. Guy across the street is a Hillary voter. This morning, I've talked to a Sanders voter and a Trump voter. So that's just in my little village.

MONTAGNE: Well, I'll tell you - I was thinking - I was around Milwaukee during the 2004 presidential election. And I was walking from one house to the next in a neighborhood. And each house had a sign for a different presidential candidate - you know, neighbors next door to each other and across the street and they were very different politically. And you just don't see that in so many places.

MOBLEY: (Laughter) No, you don't. And that's been the experience - my experience here. And you know, as I said, I make no bones about it. I love the people of the state for their independence and - but also their sense of forgiveness and charity. And they know that people get to be the way they are on politics, things. And we don't hold grudges. And we take votes, then we move on. That's our tradition.

MONTAGNE: Well, Van Mobley is the village president, or mayor, of Thiensville, Wis. He's also a professor of history and economics at Concordia University. Thank you very much for talking with us.

MOBLEY: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.