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Wisconsin's midterm results could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Wisconsin is pivotal in determining the majority in the U.S. Senate, just like it's been in recent elections. NPR's H.J. Mai traveled to eastern Wisconsin and talked to a couple of rural voters about what's driving their choices.

H J MAI, BYLINE: It's a Sunday afternoon in Sheboygan, Wis. Producer Shelby Hawkins and I are walking around the city's northern neighborhood, looking for people who are willing to talk to us about the upcoming midterm elections.

I'm Hans. This is Shelby.

SHELBY HAWKINS, BYLINE: Hi.

BRAD KARSTEADT: Hi, Shelby.

MAI: We realize quickly that on this particular day, many people are much more focused on the Green Bay Packers game than politics. After unsuccessfully knocking on a number of doors, we came across a house on a tree-lined street just blocks from Lake Michigan. In the front yard, between several skeletons and other Halloween decorations, we saw signs for Republican Senator Ron Johnson and gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels.

(OSUNDBITE OF KNOCKING ON DOOR)

MAI: Opening the door was a middle-aged couple, Linda Fellenz and Brad Karsteadt. They welcomed us inside their home to share their thoughts.

LINDA FELLENZ: We are both conservatives, born and raised that way.

MAI: Fellenz was wearing a Packers T-shirt. She owns an environmental consulting firm in Milwaukee. She supports Senator Johnson because of his background as a business owner.

FELLENZ: I'm fiscally conservative. I don't like overspending. I don't like large government. I would prefer to have the government streamlined quite a bit. I also think there has to be a lot of focus on small businesses and supporting them and recruiting them.

MAI: In addition to economic concerns, Fellenz and Karsteadt talked about election integrity and reproductive health. Democrats hope abortion rights will engage their base. And it's an important issue for this conservative couple, too.

FELLENZ: We're pro-life. We feel that a lot of abortion is birth control. I'm very much opposed to that. I think it's ridiculous to assume that anyone would be opposed to someone having an abortion that would affect either the life of the mother or the life of the baby.

MAI: Wisconsin is a politically divided state. Trump won here in 2016 and Biden in 2020. That means being public about your politics often has repercussions. During the last election, the couple's Trump sign was vandalized.

KARSTEADT: But our liberal neighbors helped us put the signs back up.

(LAUGHTER)

KARSTEADT: So we're - the neighborhood is the neighborhood. We all get along, and we all respect each other.

MAI: Fellenz and Karsteadt believe their community's strong enough to bridge those partisan divides, no matter Tuesday's outcome. H.J. Mai, NPR News, Sheboygan County, Wis.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMIINA'S "PERTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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