Milwaukee And Madison, A Portrait Of Wisconsin Democrats

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Wisconsin Democrats go to the polls today to chose a nominee for president. Polls show the race is close, so the election may hinge on two key cities.

Bernie Sanders will rely on the progressive vote in Madison. Hillary Clinton will need the minority vote in Milwaukee. Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd reports from Wisconsin.

It’s not every day someone running for president drops by the neighborhood. Especially if your zip code is 53206 — Milwaukee's poorest.

But last week, as presidential candidates were barnstorming the state ahead of today’s election, Hillary Clinton did just that. She came to the Tabernacle Community Baptist Church for a forum on gun violence.

Pastor Don Darius Butler hosted the forum inside the sanctuary, near the pulpit where he gives his sermon every Sunday. “Because at the sacred desk a proclamation is a word of hope and comfort and peace, but also a word of challenge that we can become better than we are,” he said.

Like so many other poor neighborhoods in America, this one struggles. Fewer than four in ten working-aged men have jobs, according to U.S. Census data. So it was with interest that congregant Kathi Jenkins and Pastor Butler listened as Clinton told the audience that the epidemic of gun violence is concentrated in poor areas that face the effects of systemic racism. Clinton also heard personal stories of community members who lost loved ones to violence.

“I watched her reactions, her body language,” said Jenkins, whose son was murdered at work in 2011. “She sat up. I knew she did internalize it.”

Hearing the candidate speak “was truly joyful," she added. “There were people here who had never been in this building before, though this building has been standing for a long, long time.”

Polls show a small advantage for Bernie Sanders in Wisconsin. Clinton will need support from Milwaukee’s minority voters – and from neighborhoods like this – to beat Sanders statewide. But if Clinton has a built-in advantage with black voters in Milwaukee, Sanders has an advantage of his own in Madison.

Wisconsin’s capital is home to Fighting Bob La Follette. "He really cared about bringing the power to the people,” said Madison 15-year-old Ariel Haber-Fawcett.

Robert La Follette is revered around Madison as the founder of the Progressive Party in 1924. He was a U.S. Senator and a man who hated the power of big-business in government. Sound familiar?

In a city still known for progressive politics, it’s no surprise to hear that Ariel and her dad David Fawcett spent a recent Saturday on Madison’s east side canvassing for Bernie Sanders.

“He's much better known in Madison than in a lot of the rest of the country,” Fawcett says. “People have been following him and excited by his progressive politics for several years at least.”

With just three days before Election Day, Fawcett and his daughter braved a spring snow storm knocking on doors to encourage Sanders supporters to go to the polls and to offer one final pitch to Democrats who are leaning toward Clinton.

Ariel found a receptive ear with state employee Colleen Hermans, who is undecided but favoring Clinton. At Hermans’ doorstep, they discussed Sanders’ position on abortion. Ariel pointed out that Sanders does better in national polls against Republicans in the general election.

Before the conversation ended, Hermans said she’d consider Sanders on Tuesday. “I was shy at first because I felt like I wouldn't know what to talk about if they had questions,” Ariel said. “But since then I have gained a lot more knowledge about Bernie Sanders.”

So father and daughter continued on, buoyed by the fact that Wisconsin appears winnable for Sanders. But with the math stacked against him nationwide, every door counts.

“There aren’t enough political conversations happening these days,” David Fawcett said. “Too many people are set in their ways and have decided the other side is evil and out to get them, and that’s not the way America is supposed to work.”


This segment aired on April 5, 2016.

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Peter O'Dowd Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.



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