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As polls close in Wisconsin's presidential primaries, here's what's motivating voters

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Voting closes today in Wisconsin's presidential primaries. Of course, there's no surprise about who will win. President Biden and former President Donald Trump are their party's presumptive nominees. But voter enthusiasm or disillusionment in swing states like Wisconsin could end up deciding the presidency. Maayan Silver from member station WUWM in Milwaukee asked what's driving voters there.

(CHEERING)

MAAYAN SILVER, BYLINE: There's a contagious enthusiasm this brisk morning outside an early voting center in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Milwaukee.

GREG LEWIS: You know, this is quite an occasion because this is Sunday voting.

SILVER: Pastor Greg Lewis, with Souls to the Polls, has gathered people after church services to vote and raise awareness for Wisconsin's presidential primary.

(APPLAUSE)

SILVER: Community activist Tynetta Jackson is also here, her pink and burgundy dress hidden by a puffy coat to keep warm.

TYNETTA JACKSON: I just want to say that it's time for us to stop letting other people make decisions for us.

SILVER: Jackson knows the importance of casting a ballot. But as for her own choice on Tuesday's presidential primary...

JACKSON: I'm still undecided.

SILVER: A Democrat, Jackson says the war in Gaza and what she sees as ongoing wealth gaps has left her disillusioned with Biden. While she knows she won't vote for Trump, she's mulling her other options, like voting uninstructed, which some are doing to protest the Israel-Hamas war, or writing in a candidate like Cornel West.

JACKSON: I don't consider myself party loyal anymore, and I used to be. So I'm really just really disappointed in what I see.

SILVER: That dissatisfaction is one of the things both the Biden and Trump campaigns are trying to turn around. In a state where, four years ago, Biden beat out Trump by about 20,000 votes, the election will likely be won once again around the margins, both in the city of Milwaukee and other areas, like its increasingly purple suburbs. Democrats are hoping to pick up more suburban voters like lawyer John Wirth. The Reagan Republican says he's disgusted by the direction of the GOP.

JOHN WIRTH: I haven't left the Republican Party. The Republican Party left me.

SILVER: Wirth says he's voting for Nikki Haley in the primary, even though she's dropped out of the race. Then he plans to vote for Biden in the general.

WIRTH: Not because I agree with his policies - I don't agree with any of his policies or very few of them - but because I believe Mr. Trump is not fit to be commander in chief of this country.

SILVER: But conservative principles have grabbed other voters like Grae O'Leary Hosmanek. She's a master's student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

GRAE O'LEARY HOSMANEK: The economy is huge for me, being 23, the age that I'm at, looking to move now and settle down, put some roots down, get my first big girl job - and just looking at the price of things that I used to not think about at all, even when I was buying them for myself.

SILVER: Hosmanek says she used to be a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat who voted for Biden in 2020. She's now chair of the College Republicans and will be voting for Trump, even though she sees character flaws and preferred Vivek Ramaswamy.

HOSMANEK: Obviously, if we had someone younger with better views, that would be ideal, but we don't.

SILVER: The Trump campaign is working to reach Wisconsin voters with a rally in Green Bay today. The Biden campaign has been asking their voters to tap into their social networks and has also held events in the lead-up to primary day. The end of Tuesday's election marks the beginning of crunch time, seeking out those tens of thousands of voters that could make the difference in November.

For NPR News, I'm Maayan Silver in Milwaukee.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.
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