Wisconsin is one of the key swing states where presidential candidates are fighting for every single vote. With about a month left before the election, voters are processing both current events and the longstanding issues that have been important to them.
We recently to chatted with voters from around southeastern Wisconsin about what's on their minds as they prepare to vote for the next U.S. president.
The Wisconsin Trump supporters we spoke with still stand by Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In Waukesha, a Republican stronghold, most people said China was to blame for the pandemic, not President Trump, who tested positive for the virus last week.
“Well, he didn't create the virus. China did that. So what are you gonna blame him for? Not creating a panic? I mean, he downplayed it because he didn't want to see a panic occur," said Alan Ciesemier, a retiree.
Ciesemier also expressed concern over the president.
“He should've been wearing a mask in my opinion,” he said, but also pondered how to enforce universal masking. “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?”
As COVID-19 cases surge across Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers in the state filed a motion to block Gov. Tony Evers' mask mandate. More than 17,000 people in Wisconsin have become infected in the past week alone, including U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who announced Saturday that he tested positive for the coronavirus. Some hospitals in the state are actually struggling to cope.
President Trump’s win in Wisconsin in 2016 represented a dramatic shift in the way the state had voted for more than 30 years. The state tipped in Trump's favor, in part, because Democrats did not turn out voters around the state, including Black voters in Milwaukee, a strong voting bloc for the party.
There's also a pronounced urban-rural divide in Wisconsin, with cities being oases of Democratic voters and the more rural areas trending Republican. But some Republican voters of 2016 might flip this year, like Kim Regner, a hemp farmer from rural Cedar Grove.
“I think a lot of it is just the demeanor that he gives,” she said. “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.”
Regner doesn't see Trump as a true Republican, who are concerned about waning support for Trump among women. That includes women in the suburbs and rural women, like Regner.
“There's a risk that we're taking of losing how far we've come for rights for women and a lot of minorities that I don't agree with on that side,” she said. “I believe that we should all be created and treated equally, regardless of our gender, our race, and I don't know that that side of conservatism I agree with.”
Regner said she won't vote for Trump again, but she doesn’t believe that Joe Biden is the best bet either. But she likes the pick of Kamala Harris for vice president.
“I believe more women should be involved and that would be a great thing to see in our country because we really haven’t had a lot of women in higher positions like this," she said.
Racial justice protests and counterprotests have also become local, personal issues in Wisconsin following the August police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.
Most conservatives we 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. Take for example, Greg Adams Sr., who lives in Milwaukee.
“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," he said. "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.”
Younger voters are also very motivated by social and racial justice, like Haji Camara of Milwaukee. He's part of Milwaukee Action Intersection, a new group in the city born out of this summer’s protests.
"I think our most political move has been a new initiative to figure out how we can make voting more compelling — to increase turnout, to increase registration," Camara said.
Bob Bergschultz lives outside rural Fredonia. He was selling maple syrup at the Port Washington farmers market. He’s voting for Biden.
“Because I think [Trump's] ruining our country. He’s too much of a dictatorship. He’s an ‘I, I man,’ our country’s in the worst shape it’s ever been," Bergschultz said.
Bergschultz, who is white, spent four years in the service and the Marine Corps. He said he doesn’t know why people think that because of their skin, they're better than others.
“I don't understand that. I never did,” he said.
Some voters said the economy is their biggest issue, and that’s why they support President Trump. Tom Huiras owns a machine shop in rural Random Lake. He’s voting for Trump in November.
“He cut our taxes for the business, which helped us immensely and we were the busiest we ever were. So, he's done a great job bringing stuff back from China and everything else,” Huiras said.
One voter, who gave his name as Chris, in Random Lake said he initially didn't want to vote for Trump in 2016 because of the way he talks. But then he saw Trump being “railroaded by everybody” and not doing a bad job. So, Trump won his vote.
“Especially recently with health care, like, making it more competitive to buy prescription drugs. I mean that that's going to be huge for people, especially people who can't afford it,” Chris said. “And that's just recently when I liked what he's done.”
While most people were strongly in one camp or the other, there are still a few undecided voters in Wisconsin.
Ashley Heun has multiple jobs, including a small business producing products for “people and their pets.” She’s pretty in the middle on politics and torn who to vote for.
“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,” she says.
When it comes down to it, the biggest issues for Heun are economic: taxes and help for small businesses like hers. She's watching to see how things develop this month.