Wisconsin Shows Independent Streak

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Voters in Wisconsin handed victories to John McCain and Barack Obama on Tuesday. Wisconsin native Jim VandeHei of Politico.com sees his state's character in the results.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Wisconians - Wisconsonians, that's what we call them, braved single digit temps to vote in yesterday's primaries. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a fifth were first time voters. In a state were the race is one of the closest in the general election of '04, the results yesterday proved to be exciting once again especially considering who voted for whom. Wisconsin is the home state of Politico.com's Jim VandeHei. Hi, Jim.

Mr. JIM VANDEHEI (Executive Editor, Politico.com): How are you doing?

STEWART: Doing great. So Obama beat Clinton 58 to 41 percent. Who voted for him that maybe it was a little bit unexpected?

Mr. VANDEHEI: it seems like everybody. He did very well in a lot of demographic groups that Hillary Clinton usually does very well and he did really well with women. Winning almost half of the vote. Doing very well with low income voters and he did the same, I believe, in Virginia as well. Earlier in the campaign, Hillary Clinton was consistently winning anybody who had a salary underneath $50,000 mostly, I think, because of her emphasis on economic issues. So I think the big bad news of yesterday was not just the lost for Hillary Clinton. It was sort of the breadth of the lost. The fact that he is now able to win virtually every single demographic category. She did well with senior citizen females and is about the only group where she did really, really well. And that does not bode well because if you look at Ohio, Ohio is not that radically different from Wisconsin demographically speaking. So it would suggest that Obama can do very well there and in fact, you know, some demographic groups tried even better in Ohio for Obama than they did in Wisconsin. And Texas by no means is a slam-dunk for Hillary Clinton either. Because recent polling shows they're pretty darn close.

STEWART: So was there anything particularly Wisconsonian about the results?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Well, there was in there what Wisconsin has always had. This independent streak loves the sort of reformer message, loves to march to a slightly different beat. I think what was really interesting and I think a little bit misleading to think the same thing happened in Virginia because I do think there's a lot of independent or Republican leaning voters who didn't want to vote for McCain because they think he either wrapped up the nomination or they're frustrated with his conservatism. And they voted for Obama for in these open primaries and I think that really is one of the reason that Obama's beating Hillary Clinton at least 2-1 in most of these states among independent voters. The question is, would those voters actually vote for Obama in the general election. Some might, I think some wouldn't.

STEWART: Yeah. So that's been sort of one themes in his campaign has been trying to drive home that maybe he can bring over some Republicans. The theme that her campaign has been trying to drive home is that, look, Barack Obama might be a stunning campaigner and this great speaker, but words are nice, actions are better theme, it doesn't seems to be getting tractions so far. Do you anticipate she's going to stay with this theme through March 4th?

Mr. VANDEHEI: It's hard to figure out what other theme could she adopt. It's not - there's not enough time now to really change the narrative of the campaign. There's not some magical slogan that would suddenly have people rethinking their support for Barack Obama. I think she genuinely feels - think she genuinely feels that he is not ready to be president, that he does not have any substance behind the style. But the verdict is in from the voters and they seem to like his style. They seem to like what he's saying in the campaign trail. It's the reason, you know, 15,000-20,000 people are showing up for a lot of his events. And, you know, borrowing some sort of game change. I just can't imagine what that would be. It's hard to see how Hillary Clinton pulls this out. She's now way behind in the overall popular vote. She's lost way more states than he's lost. And she's way behind in pledged delegates. So even if she were to win Ohio and Texas, it's still kind of hare to figure out the route to how she gets the nomination. If she loses one of those two, it's all over.

STEWART: Well it seems that John McCain has done that math a bit himself because at this point, McCain and Obama have already started to take some mild shots at each other. And this narrative seems to be McCain tells his experience. Again, goes with the Obama's agreeing to lead. Obama taps his vision and says McCain represents the past and politics as usual.

So Jim, should we just pack it up and go on vacation because that's the way it's going to be until November.

Mr. VANDEHEI: I think it's certainly going to be the way it's going to be for a couple of months. There's no doubt that Republicans are eager to contrast McCain's foreign policy experience and just broader experience against Obama. I don't think that's a winning message. I do not think that if he focuses on security alone and says I'm the guy who can keep you, you know, keep you safe and this guys is just all style and all rhetoric. I don't think that's necessarily a winning message. He's going to have to move beyond our national security and beyond Iraq because people don't want to talk about Iraq and foreign policy for the next five or six months. They want to know what else are you going to do to help us if I'm losing my home because I can't afford my adjustable rate mortgage which just got locked up, you know, a percent or two higher. They want to know how you're going to help fix the economy when there's so much - so many jitters right now in the economy. How are you going to help me find a job when the unemployment rate is starting to take up.

He's going to have to figure out a way to address that. And there's no doubt, I mean, he admitted that he's big weakness is as candidate is that he's not great on the economy. Well, he better get great on the economy, because I think the economy is going to be a huge issue in this campaign, undoubtedly.

STEWART: Jim VandeHei is the executive editor of Politico.com. Always nice to talk to you, Jim.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Oh, yeah. See you.

STEWART: Oh, yeah. See yah, you bet you. Go Badgers.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Hey, stay with us. Coming up on the show, a Serbian reaction to Kosovo's declaration of independence. And a check in with Laura Conaway on the blog and a lovely song from Ingrid Michelson . she was in BPP studios and we're going to bring her back to perform a song that she did when she was here. We'll play that for you.

This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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