Reporters Discuss the Political Climate in Wisconsin and Ohio
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MARGARET WARNER: In 2000, Wisconsin went for Al Gore by a razor-thin margin of less than 6,000 votes. Ohio, the state both candidates visited today, went for then-candidate George W. Bush by a more comfortable, but still lean, 4 percent.
This year, both states are hotly contested again. For more now on Wisconsin and Ohio, we turn to two political reporters in those states: Meg Kissinger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Darrel Rowland of the Columbus Dispatch. Welcome to you both.
Darrel Rowland, we saw both candidates in Ohio today. What’s it like if you’re an Ohio voter? How intense is the campaign?
DARREL ROWLAND: Margaret, there is no way you can get away from this campaign even if you wanted to. You turn on your TV, there are ads at every commercial break. There are so many ads that the local candidates who want to advertise can’t get space. You turn on the radio, the candidates are there. You pick up your phone, there’s robo calls on your telephone. You go to your mailbox, there’s direct mail pieces.
We did a story today where one person got as many as 20 direct mail pieces. Of course, the candidates themselves are in the state. Approximately a dozen times in the last few days of the campaign, including, even as we speak, about three miles from where I’m sitting in Columbus, Bruce Springsteen or a crowd is gathering to see Bruce Springsteen and Sen. Kerry here in Columbus.
MARGARET WARNER: Meg Kissinger, in Wisconsin, I’m going to assume you’ve been subjected to the same barrage in Wisconsin. We’ve heard the candidates being part accident and tough on each other. Is the mood as partisan and tough among Wisconsin voters?
MEG KISSINGER: Oh, yeah. If these guys come here anymore times, they’ll start mooing. The mood among the voters is intense. There were reports of people burning swastikas into peoples’ lawns, rocks being thrown at Kerry campaign people, people spitting on Bush campaign people. It’s intense.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Rowland, back to you in Ohio. Explain the political dynamic. What’s going on there? This is a state, as we said, that then-candidate Bush won by 4 percentage points. Why is it a state that the Kerry folks really think they have a shot at?
DARREL ROWLAND: Ohio’s historically been a bellwether in presidential elections. The state has only missed two elections, if you will, since 1900. In all the other elections it backed the winner. Ohio is a test market for many national products.
You might say it’s a test market for politicians, as well. Sen. Kerry looks back at 2000 and sees where then-Governor Bush only won by 3.6 percentage points. That was after Vice President Gore had pulled out of the state essentially in the last month of the campaign. Ohio is also experienced among the nation’s largest number of job lost. So Ohio is definitely a right target for the Democrats.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, on the president’s side of the ledger, though, cultural issues are also still quite important in parts of Ohio. Don’t you have a gay marriage amendment on the ballot — or anti-gay marriage?
DARREL ROWLAND: We do indeed. That’s right. A constitutional amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman and would also deny the benefits of marriage to anything other than traditional marriage is probably the easiest way to put it.
Most people think this is really going to help the Republicans because this will generate more conservatives probably coming out to the polls, as has been well reported. President Bush’s political adviser, Karl Rove, talk about the evangelical vote being underrepresented in 2000. Issues like this, though, are getting folks energized that weren’t energized four years ago.
MARGARET WARNER: Meg Kissinger, give us the same kind of analysis of what’s going on in Wisconsin where it came down to the wire in 2000. What’s working for each man there?
MEG KISSINGER: Jobs are very important here, as they are everywhere. There’s been a… we have a heavy manufacturing base here in Milwaukee. There’s been, of the swing states, Wisconsin has regained more jobs than other states, but those jobs have been service economy, lower-paying jobs. So it’s believed that that’s going to be the… the economy will be a strong issue in Wisconsin.
MARGARET WARNER: Somebody, a Kerry person said to me yesterday you could almost draw a line in half across the state, and the northern part of the state tends to be Republican and in the southern it’s Democratic. Is it that simple?
MEG KISSINGER: Not really, no. In fact, Wisconsin’s kind of a funny state in that several rural areas you would consider or suspect to be going for the Republicans have actually gone to Democrats in the past. Gore actually won a number of cities along the Mississippi Valley that are quite rural.
MARGARET WARNER: And…
MEG KISSINGER: Conversely, sorry, conversely in Milwaukee County, that went for Bush last time, though narrowly.
MARGARET WARNER: Tell us about the Nader factor. He got 4 percent last time. He is on the ballot, isn’t he?
MEG KISSINGER: He is. He’s one of seven candidates on the ballot here in Wisconsin. He’s not really been a factor this time around.
MARGARET WARNER: How do the pollsters explain that?
MEG KISSINGER: Well, I think because of the intensity focused on the two primary candidates, and Nader hasn’t made as strong as a push here. Again, there are a total of seven presidential candidates on the ballot. That tends to diffuse that.
MARGARET WARNER: Darrel Rowland, back to you. Let’s talk about voting procedures and so on. Now, the secretary of state says Ohio, 500,000 new voters have registered, but there have been all of these continue tests, challenges so far.
DARREL ROWLAND: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you, and does your reporting tell you that Ohio could be the Florida of 2000?
DARREL ROWLAND: Frankly, that’s been said so often that’s almost the cliché of the year in both senses of the word. One, Ohio could be very, very close on election night, and in fact, we may not know the winner election night or the next morning or who knows how long. And number two, in that our voting procedures are so much under fire, they may or may not withstand security.
We are in court today, as a matter of fact, on the Republican’s effort to challenge about 35,000 of these newly registered voters across the state. They lost that at the federal court level. However, there have been appeals made today — actually, three different appeals: One by the Franklin County Board of Elections here in Columbus; one by the Republican Party and one by another group, one by our attorney-general, Jim Pietro. So that’s an emergency appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, so stay tuned for more developments on that.
MARGARET WARNER: And what kind of voting system does Ohio have in terms of machines?
DARREL ROWLAND: That’s the other thing. Ohio is one of the few states in America that has not modernized its voting system very much. Almost three-fourths of Ohioans will vote on the good old punch card system again. We did a study of the 2000 election, and if you looked at the predominantly black precincts compared to the rest of the state, the rate of uncounted votes in those areas was almost triple than the rest of the state. So that’s caused a lot of concern, but there is not a whole lot you can do about it at this point. We’re definitely not going to change the type of voting system between now and Tuesday.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Meg Kissinger, in Wisconsin, you have 200,000 new voters. Are they anticipating any new voting procedure problems there?
MEG KISSINGER: We have a history of clean elections here and a progressive voting population. There’s not a lot of expectation of monkey business, but just in case you can bet there are plenty of lawyers waiting in the wings and salivating.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Meg Kissinger and Darrel Rowland, thank you both.
DARREL ROWLAND: Thank you, Margaret.
MEG KISSINGER: Thank you.