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Biden, Trump faced more protest votes than expected in Wisconsin's primary


Wisconsin could be called the most recent example of how underwhelmed some Democrats and Republicans are with their party's presumptive presidential nominees.


At least based on the evidence from yesterday's primary. Wisconsin is a swing state, a once-reliable blue state that went for Donald Trump in 2016, then back to Joe Biden in 2020. Biden and Trump both won their primaries this time, and both faced protest votes too.

MARTÍNEZ: Maayan Silver, with member station WUWM, joins us now from Milwaukee. Maayan, so what did we learn last night?

MAAYAN SILVER, BYLINE: Well, weatherwise, it felt like winter in Wisconsin yesterday. And as for the election, borrowing from Shakespeare, it also seemed like the winter of voters' discontent. So really, Biden and Trump both won handily in Wisconsin, but they were dealing with these protest votes. And for Biden, that meant the uninstructed vote. That's Wisconsin's version of uncommitted. And in the GOP primary, one surprise for Trump was that Nikki Haley, who dropped out of the race after Super Tuesday, got more than 12% of the vote.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, we'll get to Nikki Haley in just a second. Tell us more about this protest vote against Biden, like we've seen in other states.

SILVER: Yeah. It's a movement that's spread across the country, urging people to choose uncommitted - or, in Wisconsin's case, it's uninstructed - on their primary ballots. They're protesting President Biden's handling of the war in Gaza.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So how well did they do?

SILVER: Organizers wanted to get at least 20,000 people to do this in Wisconsin. That's actually the margin that Biden won Wisconsin by in 2020. The movement exceeded its own expectations, with more than 40,000 voters choosing that option. Here's Heba Mohammad - she's a spokesperson for Listen to Wisconsin - at a watch party last night.


HEBA MOHAMMAD: We have blown his last margin of victory out of the water. He needs to be paying attention and calling for an immediate permanent cease-fire as soon as possible.

SILVER: So these organizers say they'll keep pressuring Biden and local officials to end the war between Hamas and Israel.

MARTÍNEZ: What are Democratic leaders in the state saying about that?

SILVER: Well, I spoke to Ben Wikler after the results came in. He's the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, and here's what he had to say.

BEN WIKLER: I think that the message from so many of these voters is that they want to be able to vote for Joe Biden this November. They just don't want this heartbreaking tragedy to continue.

SILVER: Wikler did tell me that he thinks it's a good sign that people actually got out and actually voted. He says it means they haven't checked out or given up on the process. He also says it'll actually be important to remind people of everything that's at stake in November, including abortion rights. That's something that's really been mobilizing Democrats in Wisconsin.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, earlier, you mentioned Nikki Haley. That's a name, Maayan, that we haven't heard much about since she dropped out of the race about a month ago. She's still getting votes.

SILVER: Yes. She dropped out too late to be removed from Wisconsin's ballot, and it suggests there's clearly a block of Republican voters who are not yet ready to get out there and support Trump. Bill McCoshen is a Wisconsin GOP strategist.

BILL MCCOSHEN: If I were giving any advice to the Trump campaign, it would be to stay disciplined and stay focused, only talk about issues that really move voters, and don't get distracted by the 2020 election and things like that.

SILVER: But, you know, Trump is really hard to corral on that point. He was in Green Bay for a rally yesterday, and he continued to repeat his ongoing lie, saying that he won Wisconsin in 2020. McCoshen says instead, Republicans should focus on issues like immigration and the economy.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Maayan Silver for the member station WUWM in Milwaukee. Thanks a lot.

SILVER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Maayan Silver is an intern with WUWM's Lake Effect program. She is a practicing criminal defense attorney, NPR listener and student of journalism and radio production.