Wisconsin's Moves Ahead With Tuesday Primary As Campaigns And Polls Adapt In this swing state, the outbreak is forcing political parties to retool their get-out-the-vote efforts, and making some conservatives reconsider absentee voting.
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Wisconsin's Moves Ahead With Tuesday Primary As Campaigns And Polls Adapt

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Wisconsin's Moves Ahead With Tuesday Primary As Campaigns And Polls Adapt

Wisconsin's Moves Ahead With Tuesday Primary As Campaigns And Polls Adapt

Wisconsin's Moves Ahead With Tuesday Primary As Campaigns And Polls Adapt

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In this swing state, the outbreak is forcing political parties to retool their get-out-the-vote efforts, and making some conservatives reconsider absentee voting.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Wisconsin is forging ahead with its April 7 primary despite the coronavirus pandemic and calls from some state leaders to postpone. It's a critical state for both Republicans and Democrats in the 2020 presidential race. And as Maayan Silver from member station WUWM in Milwaukee reports, while in-person campaigning is off the table, both parties are figuring out how to get out the vote without getting together in person.

MAAYAN SILVER, BYLINE: At early voting at Racine City Hall last weekend, voters had their temperature checked by a firefighter in a surgical mask before they could enter the building. Voter Carol Rawlinski brought her own pen to fill out the ballot.

CAROL RAWLINSKI: Can I have my own pen?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, yes ma'am.

RAWLINSKI: (Laughter)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I am not upset with you for having your own pen.

RAWLINSKI: OK. Sign here?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes, ma'am.

SILVER: A squeeze of hand sanitizer, and Rawlinski was on her way. She says while these are unusual times, some things about politics haven't changed.

RAWLINSKI: Well, I do get a lot of messages from both parties. It goes to our answering machine.

SILVER: COVID-19 has meant an end to door-to-door canvassing and events like these.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

JOE BIDEN: As my mother would say, God love you all.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BERNIE SANDERS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hello, Milwaukee. Hello.

SILVER: Instead, campaigning has gone totally virtual. Trump's reelection campaign is using an app, so volunteers can call potential voters from home. Callers have a script about how President Trump has handled the coronavirus outbreak. If they don't get an answer, the app leaves a prerecorded message from Trump's daughter-in-law Lara Trump with CDC guidelines to stay healthy. Still, it's not ideal, says Mark Jefferson, who heads the Wisconsin GOP.

MARK JEFFERSON: We still recognize that when people are able to talk at the doors and have face-to-face conversations, it is still the most effective way to dial down the animosity that people have towards this president when they watch cable news or something like that.

SILVER: But all of this online activity helps keep volunteers and voters from feeling isolated, says Ben Wikler, chair of the Wisconsin Democrats.

BEN WIKLER: Democracy is a group activity most of the time. So the fact that we're all shut up in our own homes is very different. And what that has meant is the kind of - the release on the pressure valve has been people going online and talking to people on the phone, sending text messages, reaching out through social media.

SILVER: While there is limited in-person voting, many people are afraid to go to the polls. There's been a record number of absentee ballot requests. That's forcing Republicans to shift their get-out-the-vote tactics, says Bill McCoshen, a GOP strategist.

BILL MCCOSHEN: This is an area where Democrats have traditionally done better than Republicans - the early voting and the absentee ballots. Not to say Republicans have been terrible at it, but Democrats have been better.

SILVER: While Republicans have traditionally worried about fraud and mail-in ballots not being counted, McCoshen says this crisis is changing people's minds.

MCCOSHEN: I mean, people are - were less confident their vote would count if they didn't actually hand it in the - put it into the machine themselves. Well, now they're more worried about catching a virus if they go to the polling place, so getting them to return their ballot should be a lot easier this time around.

SILVER: It's not clear whether one side will benefit from moving towards more mail-in ballots. Ultimately, the parties still have to motivate people to vote, says Paul Maslin, a Democratic strategist. He notes that's actually something the Republicans did better in 2016.

PAUL MASLIN: So I think this is a jump ball to use - probably bad to use a basketball reference since our poor Bucks can't even play a game.

SILVER: At least for now, both sides have to execute their plays virtually. For NPR News, I'm Maayan Silver in Milwaukee.

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