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Older Voters Could Decide Outcome In Volatile Wis.


In recent days, voters in Wisconsin have been experiencing a political whirlwind. They've been visited by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, former president Bill Clinton, President Obama himself - that's today - and in the next couple of days, Joe Biden and Mitt Romney. Polls show the presidential race in Wisconsin is tight, the Senate race is a dead heat and older voters could determine the outcome.

Baby boomers and senior citizens make up more than half of the electorate. And as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, studies show older voters are much more likely to turn out than younger ones.


INA JAFFE, BYLINE: The jazz band gets together every Thursday morning at Middleton Wisconsin's Senior Center. It's a gathering place for retirees in the former farm town turned suburb of Madison. Mike Clipson plays trombone. He's voting for president Obama and here's why.

MIKE CLIPSON: I think the economy is going to continue to improve at a slow rate for the next four years no matter who's president. But how we handle things in the Middle East and with North Korea and other parts of the world, I think, is going to be very critical.

JAFFE: Clipson is 58 years old and retired from the insurance industry. So he's a baby boomer, and they have a tendency to vote Democratic somewhat more than voters over 65. Carol Troia is a 74-year-old retired hairdresser.

CAROL TROIA: At the very beginning I was going to vote for all Republican.

JAFFE: Instead, she voted early for Barack Obama and for Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin, even though Troia wrinkles her nose like she just got a whiff of spoiled milk when she says Baldwin's name.

TROIA: I'm not real fond of her, but I'll take her over Thompson.

JAFFE: That's Republican candidate Tommy Thompson, a former Wisconsin governor, who's race with Baldwin is neck and neck.

Carol Troia says she turned away from the Republican candidates after watching debates and viewing TV commercials. She says a lot of things bothered her, especially Romney's views on women's issues.

TROIA: I think a woman has a right to decide what she wants to do. He wants to abolish Planned Parenthood, Roe versus Wade. He doesn't know that much about foreign policy. And he's got an awfully lot of money, which he's proud of.

JAFFE: Why should he not be proud of that?

TROIA: I just don't think it should be thrown in people's faces.

ROSS MCVEY: How does Santiago embody Hemingway's idea of manhood?

We ask this entire group of women.


JAFFE: Ross McVey leads the book club's discussion of Ernest Hemingway's the "Old Man and the Sea." His wife Vicky is also in the group. Both are 69 years old. He's a retired accountant, she's a retired teacher, they're voting a straight Republican ticket.

MCVEY: I probably chose Mr. Romney as the lesser of two evils. My feeling is that politics has led us towards a socialist type of government and so I'm opposed to Mr. Obama. It's sort of a vote for Romney, against Obama.

VICKY MCVEY: And I really worry about the economy.

JAFFE: That's Vicky McVey, who's disappointed in the president.

MCVEY: In four years, he didn't really help the economy as he promised, and now he says give me four more. Is it going to be the same? That's what I worry about.

JAFFE: If you've been waiting for a discussion of Medicare in this story, you will be disappointed. None of the older voters we interviewed at the senior center brought it up. When we asked, no one seemed too worried about it. They were more concerned about the impact of Wisconsin's recent history.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Recall Walker. Recall Walker.

JAFFE: Last year, when Republican Governor Scott Walker moved to repeal most collective bargaining rights for public employees, Wisconsinites protested in the tens of thousands. A move to recall Walker failed, but the wounds haven't healed, says Ross McVey.

MCVEY: I think all that did was separate people even more. I think the divide is a lot bigger, a wider than it ever was, which is bad.

JAFFE: That's one of the few things that Wisconsin's Republicans and Democrats agree on these days.

JAMES WILLET: I can't stand the extremism of either right or left.

JAFFE: That's 59-year-old James Willett, the jazz band's bass player.

WILLET: Eventually, in order to get anything done, you have to come together and compromise. Oh, my gosh, what a foreign word by these days.

JAFFE: But the people here are old enough to remember the days when compromise actually used to happen sometimes.

I'm a Jaffe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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