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Voter Turnout Efforts Going Full Steam In Wisconsin


Wisconsin has been a hotbed of political fighting over the past two years. Republican Governor Scott Walker pushed to strip public sector unions of most of their bargaining rights. That triggered massive protests and a failed attempt to recall Walker from office in June. The recall battle with its dueling well-funded grassroots organizations was unlike any Wisconsin had ever seen.

As NPR's Don Gonyea reports, both sides are now reprising that battle for the presidential race.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This is the southeastern Wisconsin city of Racine, a Mitt Romney phone bank located in the congressional district of GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. We visited Sunday, but volunteer Vickie Hynek assured me they did not bother people while the Green Bay Packers were playing.

VICKIE HYNEK: But as soon as the Packer game was over, we're right back on the telephones and we've had some really good response.

GONYEA: Hynek is counting down the days...

HYNEK: Nine today, yeah, but it will be eight tomorrow and then seven the next day.

GONYEA: Both President Obama and Governor Romney cancelled appearances in Wisconsin this week as the hurricane threatened the East Coast. Big rallies are important. Still, much of the action is on the ground in campaign offices where volunteers gather, maybe one or two or three dozen at a time, where the grind of phone calls and data entry or canvassing is punctuated by occasional visits from statewide office holders or local party officials.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Welcome North Shore Republicans. Yeah.

GONYEA: It seems most of these volunteers on both sides were active in Wisconsin's June recall election. Business owner Frank Orlando was at the GOP office in White Fish Bay.

FRANK ORLANDO: On the way in today, I said: It's funny, it's the exact same feeling we had during the recall election, that feeling of momentum, energy. And you went, we're going to win this thing. You could feel the energy coming out.

GONYEA: That energy for Romney seems relatively new in Wisconsin. Some volunteers said it kicked in after the first presidential debate. Wisconsin has gone Democratic in every presidential election since 1988, but polls this year show a close race. The recall was Frank Orlando's first political campaign, same for Romney-backer Amy Lucy Shyn, a stay-at-home mom.

AMY LUCY SHYN: I guess more than anything, it's - for me, knocking on doors is new and I had never done it before. I did it for Scott Walker. And it was not as difficult as I thought it was going to be.

GONYEA: In state after state, there are many more Democratic Party field offices than those set up by Republicans. That's true here as well. Even though in Wisconsin, Democrats did not succeed in tossing out Governor Walker in June, they've gotten past the hangover of that loss and have adapted their recall operations to the general election. John Drew of Kenosha is a United Autoworkers Union official.

JOHN DREW: The one good thing about the recall in terms of our volunteers is people got a lot of experience during the recall and it was kind of like a warm up now.

GONYEA: Back in Obama office in Milwaukee this weekend, canvassers were coming in to pick up lists of doors to knock on.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Saturday morning was in Racine, Kenosha, Milwaukee. We're going to be doing doors, OK, so...

GONYEA: There were high school students and retirees in their 70s. Congresswoman Gwen Moore stopped by.

REPRESENTATIVE GWEN MOORE: You all look like a whole army of ants here today. You do. You just do your part, carry 10 times your weight just like any good ant would do, because you know what an old African proverb says? Together the ants eat the elephant.

GONYEA: Early voting is underway in Wisconsin. That's the big push for Democrats. On Sunday, vans drove across Milwaukee, picking people up and dropping them at the municipal building downtown where they could vote over the weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: You are registered already? All right. You can go in. Have you moved since the last time you voted?


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: OK. So you're just going to go right in this front stairs and they're going to send you downstairs. Follow the...

GONYEA: The goal was to turn unlikely voters into actual voters. Thirty-seven-year-old Latasha Kelly said she'd never voted before.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: How much did having a ride help?

LATASHA KELLY: Oh, it helped a great deal because the ride came exactly when it said it was going to come. I got a chance to just leave and come back, so it took 10 minutes.

GONYEA: There is just over a week left to get people to the polls both early and on November 6. This is when it's all on the line in Wisconsin. That's something no one needs to be reminded of. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Racine.



You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.