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Posted at 11:33 AM ET, 10/16/2012

Wisconsinites on the fence

Back in my home state, enjoying some chamber of commerce weather and talking to voters again. Our Wisconsin story ran today so I’ll paste it in below.

It can be hard for people in a politics-obsessed place like Washington DC to understand how anyone might still be undecided at this point, after all this campaigning, all these TV ads, all this political jibber-jabber (swing voters, fyi, are not the same thing as undecided voters — a distinction that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle). Keep in mind, some undecideds aren’t really as undecided as they sound. They’ll vote the way they always do, out of habit. Or not vote at all. They’ll say they’re going to vote, but they won’t actually show up at the polls.

The fact is, most people aren’t enraptured by politics. Some people can go through their lives with only a passing acquaintance with the candidates and the issues. Some people are completely alienated from the process. Most of the people in the base of a party become more passionate in their convictions over time as they communicate with like-minded people (the echo chamber effect), but there is this small slice of the electorate that never completely finds its community, that’s in the wind, that’s persuadable. And some of them may just want to back the winning horse — which is why a candidate in a debate needs to talk not only about specific issues but also convey the sense of being the person who’s going to win. Message: I’m a winner.

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Here’s our story on Wisconsin’s swing voters:

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Pam and Bill Haaker are making a pilgrimage to the legendary home of the Green Bay Packers, Lambeau Field (or “Lambert Field,” as presidential candidate John F. Kerry called it in a moment of unsportsmanlike conduct in 2004). They pause to chat about politics. A few steps away, a bronzed Vince Lombardi stares down at them as though eavesdropping.

Pam is a retired nurse; Bill is a truck driver. Like most Wisconsin voters, they faithfully go to the polls on Election Day. Pam intends to vote for Mitt Romney, but Bill is still agonizing. “I just don’t think the poor guy can relate to the common man. He just can’t,” he says of Romney.

“You didn’t listen to the interview with the man and his wife. They had some hard times,” Pam tells him.

Bill says he’d like to see a “more middle-of-the-roadish” president. He says of President Obama, “He hasn’t done a great job, but he hasn’t totally flubbed everything either.”

Voters here tend to be relatively reserved in their political discourse by modern standards, with “flubbed” being a typical f-word. Some won’t talk politics at all. Ask their opinion and they shake their heads as though a response would be unseemly.

This is shaping up to be another close presidential election that will be decided in part by the mysterious calculations of swing voters in places such as Wisconsin. These voters are what strategists refer to as the “persuadables.” About 10 percent to 15 percent of Badger State voters have no strong allegiance to the major political parties and are truly up for grabs, said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette University Law School Poll.

The Wisconsin persuadables, on average, “are younger, less ideological, less partisan, pay less attention to politics,” he said.

Interviews in the state bear that out: It’s easy to find undecided voters who remain in play, are hard to peg as liberal or conservative, and seem to be ready to go on gut instinct if necessary when they mark their ballots. Which brings up another fact about Wisconsin: Wisconsinites vote in droves. They believe in being good citizens. In 2008, more than 72 percent cast a presidential ballot, a turnout second only to Minnesota’s.

“I’m one of those swing voters, you know? And if I don’t like a politician, I don’t like him,” said Jeff Benske, who owns the Top Shelf Guitar Shop in Milwaukee.

The state has an abundance of “Bush-Obama voters,” who supported Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 and then voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.

No other state has as many Bush-Obama counties, as graphically detailed by the Web site BushObamaAmerica.com. Some states, such as Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee, have zero. Florida, the biggest swing state, has one. Same with Missouri. But the Upper Midwest is blistered with Bush-Obama counties, and Wisconsin is covered with them, particularly near Green Bay and the Fox River Valley.

A typical Bush-Obama persuadable is Mary Shultis, 65, who works at the Door County Confectionery in Sturgeon Bay, a vacation town northeast of Green Bay. Taking a break from making caramel apples, she went over her history as a voter: Richard M. Nixon in ’72, Jimmy Carter in ’76, Ronald Reagan in ’80 and ’84, George H.W. Bush in ’88, Bill Clinton in ’92 and ’96, George W. Bush in 2000 and ’04, and Barack Obama in ’08.

That happens to be a list of the winners. The confectioner is a bellwether. She said she had been leaning strongly toward Obama until she watched the presidential debate on Oct. 3.

“I was definitely for Obama, but I think Romney came in with both guns ready to fire and he knew his stuff,” she said. “And Romney said things I hadn’t heard before. Now he’s all concerned about middle-class families. Wow, I don’t know who I want now.”

Click here to keep reading.

By  |  11:33 AM ET, 10/16/2012

 
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