Wisconsin voters always like a good political fight, but this year they don’t have a ringside seat. In the presidential race, neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump has appeared in the state for more than a month, and local airwaves have been relatively free of political advertising.
Despite a Marquette Law School Poll released Wednesday showing that the race is a statistical tossup among likely voters, this is a contest defined by disappointment. Gov. Scott Walker had hoped that he — and certainly not Trump — would be leading the Republican ticket, and Clinton has been unable to whip up the same voter enthusiasm that helped President Obama easily win the state in 2008 and 2012.
“I think a lot of people are embarrassed by both of them,” said Jennifer Winter, 54, a tattoo artist in West Bend. “You’ve got Hillary lying about her e-mails, and Trump saying we’ll just go over to some country and bomb them.”
While next week’s first presidential debate could change voter attitudes and make Wisconsin, with 10 electoral votes, a battleground in the remaining weeks of the campaign, for now it’s a quiet symbol of bipartisan dissatisfaction with the choices.
The poll shows considerable buyer’s remorse. Two-thirds of those supporting Trump say they wish there was another candidate, while half of Clinton’s supporters wish Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — who won the Wisconsin primary — was their nominee.
“As we get close to the election, if it’s a very close election, there’ll be more pressure to come home to your party, rather than risk your party losing because you either didn’t vote or voted for a third party,” said Charles Franklin, who directs the Marquette Poll.
The poll showed 44 percent of likely Wisconsin voters supporting Clinton and 42 percent backing Trump. Among all registered voters, Clinton led 43 percent to 38 percent.
Paul Maslin, a Democratic strategist, said the state is coming down from eight years of political adrenaline, starting with Obama’s popularity and a historic recall campaign against Walker. “Wisconsin is really no different from the rest of the country, with essentially two unpopular people running,” he said.
After the Republican National Convention in July, Wisconsin was included in a group of industrial states that Trump felt he could win. While Ohio and Pennsylvania remain well-trod battlegrounds for both candidates, Wisconsin has been left behind. There has been no general-election TV advertising by Clinton, her top super PACs or by Trump.
Wisconsin’s sideline role is a sharp divergence from almost six years of unrelenting partisan warfare in the state. Walker used Republican legislative majorities in 2011 to curb collective bargaining for most public employees. More than 1 million people signed petitions to recall the governor from office. Walker survived the ouster election in 2012.
Although Obama won the state by 7 percentage points four years ago, Wisconsin was part of the battle, by virtue of Rep. Paul Ryan being the running mate of Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
This year, it could tip the balance for which party controls the U.S. Senate. The Marquette poll found Democrat Russ Feingold leading incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson by a margin of 47 percent to 41 percent among likely voters.