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Battleground Wisconsin suburbs historically voted Republican, but that's shifting


Wisconsin has become a key election battleground state. Four of the past six presidential races there were decided by less than a percentage point. Many people are watching the Milwaukee suburbs. They've historically voted Republican but have been shifting towards Democrats over the last several years. NPR's Franco Ordoñez checked in with suburban voters in Port Washington and asked how they're feeling about the current slate of Republican candidates.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Matt Hermans and a buddy are at the marina in Port Washington, getting ready to take off on a 40-foot charter boat for an afternoon of fishing in Lake Michigan.


ORDOÑEZ: Before they set off on a mission to catch as much Chinook salmon and rainbow trout as possible, I got them to take a moment to talk a little politics following the first Republican debate that took place in nearby Milwaukee.

MATT HERMANS: I've split tickets most of my life. And I always try to find a person or people that are most aligned with my own values.

ORDOÑEZ: Port Washington is the county seat of Ozaukee County, once part of a deeply red suburban belt around Milwaukee that has been shifting purple. And Republicans here will need to stem the exodus of conservative voters if they want to win back the state that went to then-candidate Joe Biden by less than 25,000 votes. Hermans, a tech inventor, likes what he hears from some of the other Republican candidates. But he says it's difficult to learn more about them because so much of the daily conversation is clouded by Trump.

HERMANS: There are definitely a couple extremely intelligent candidates. But the Trump fiasco is - it distracts from reality, especially with all the legal things going on, because nobody knows what's really going to happen.

ORDOÑEZ: Trump skipped the debate in Milwaukee, but that was OK with several of the voters enjoying their day on the water. Mary Flynn, a retired banker, is walking around the marina with a friend. She likes Trump and thinks he did a good job. But she says he's become too controversial and polarizing.

MARY FLYNN: We really need some new blood in there.

ORDOÑEZ: Flynn thinks Ron DeSantis would have a better chance of beating Biden, but she's been disappointed by the Florida governor's performance on the national stage.

FLYNN: He might be all right. But he's not, you know, loud enough to me. He's got to be more energetic. He seemed laid back. And he's really got to sell himself, and he's not doing that.

ORDOÑEZ: Her walking partner, Frank Benevuto, agrees. But he still thinks Trump will lead the ticket.

FRANK BENEVUTO: I think, when push comes to shove, Trump is going to be the one again. And I'll vote for him.

ORDOÑEZ: Trump still retains support from half of Republican voters overall, but he did see a slight decrease in that support after he skipped the Milwaukee debate, according to a new poll from Emerson College. And those persuadable voters live in places like Port Washington that are turning from red to purple, voters like Claire Horan.

CLAIRE HORAN: We need a leader that is going to be the part of a president, and he's certainly not showing that. He's got too much turmoil going on.

ORDOÑEZ: Horan is walking her dog, Bella, around the marina.

HORAN: (Laughter) You should hear her when she's sleeping.

ORDOÑEZ: Horan says she's always voted Republican but doesn't think she can vote Republican again if Trump is the nominee.

HORAN: I probably would not vote. I don't think Biden's going to get it. First of all, he's too old. He's very feeble. He's just not popular. And, you know...

ORDOÑEZ: She'd rather vote for DeSantis or Nikki Haley, and she's curious about Vivek Ramaswamy. But like so many of the others at the harbor, she doubts they can beat Trump.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Port Washington, Wisc. 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.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.

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