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Politics & Government

Wisconsin's Role in the Presidential Race Remains Uncertain

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Scott Olson/Getty Images
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (L) and Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.

Wisconsin still isn’t sure how the presidential race will play out here. But the candidates or their surrogates continue coming to campaign. A couple rallies over the weekend didn’t turn out exactly as planned.

Choruses of cheers and boos greeted House Speaker Paul Ryan on Saturday, when he stepped onto the stage at a rally in Elkhorn. Ryan was supposed to be there with Republican nominee Donald Trump, but rescinded Trump's invitation after stories surfaced about lewd comments Trump made about women 11 years ago. Meanwhile, former Democratic president Bill Clinton campaigned for wife Hillary in Milwaukee on Saturday, and was heckled during his speech.

Upcoming polls could indicate whether the new information that's surfaced about Trump will affect Wisconsin voters’ decisions. In September, the race between Trump and Clinton remained close, according to Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll.

"Clinton led by two points in the head-to-head, and by three points, when you included the third-party candidates, and that was about the same as it had been at the end of August," Franklin says.

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The poll also showed a higher than usual number of undecided voters, and those considering a third party candidate. Yet Franklin says typically, undecided voters feel compelled in the end to stick with the party that usually represents their views.

In the case of Trump, he desperately needs to win over Republicans in Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties, because he lost badly there to Ted Cruz in the Wisconsin primary. Lilly Goren is a political science professor at Carroll College.

"Trump needs to try to make sure he can shore up those voters who went decisively for Cruz in pretty substantial numbers," Goren says.

Goren says because Trump is a divisive candidate, even within the GOP, it's "very possible" voters in the state’s deeply red counties might withhold their support for the Republican nominee.

Meanwhile, for Clinton's campaign, the challenge is to persuade urban voters to head to the polls, according to UW-Milwaukee's Mordecai Lee. He says while many voters in cities are loyal to the Democratic Party, they’re not regular voters. So, they need a push.

"We're talking about a layer of voters who are probably below average in income and age and education, it's a heavy lift to get them to vote every four years. So for the Democrats, the issue is turnout and getting them registered and really physically getting to the polls," Lee says.

Lee says Wisconsin will probably see more campaign rallies, if polls continue to show a tight race here.

The trend has been that Democrats have won every presidential race in Wisconsin since 1984. Yet UW-Green Bay professor emeritus Michael Kraft says it's important to examine the numbers.

"In 2000 and 2004, the margin between the two parties was less than one percent. So the state from a historical record is less reliably Democratic than many people take it to be, and of course we've elected Republicans at the statewide level since 2010," Kraft says.

So Kraft says in reality, the state has been up for grabs.

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