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Wisconsin voters welcome attention from candidates
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College Democrats members Chris Mason and Emily Kunesh hang a recruiting poster in River Falls, Wis. (MPR Photo/Lorna Benson)
Wisconsin is in the national spotlight with Democratic candidates for President criss-crossing the state ahead of Tuesday's primary. For candidates John Edwards and Howard Dean, the dairy state is a must-win following John Kerry's victories in 14 of 16 previous primaries and caucuses. Edwards, who has one primary win so far, is hoping for at least a second place finish in Wisconsin. If that happens it could put an end to Dean's candidacy. The fallen front-runner cancelled campaign stops in Michigan to spend more time campaigning in Wisconsin. All of the attention is a welcome change to the state's residents.

River Falls, Wis. — The election frenzy coincides with Wisconsin's decision to move up its primary by a month to attract more presidential candidates. And it seems to have worked.

At the University of Wisconsin-River Falls campus, the president of the College Democrats, Chris Mason, said it's been an exciting few weeks. Several of the campaigns have asked his group to pass out information about their candidates and encourage students to vote on Tuesday.

Wisconsin is a progressive state, which gives all of the candidates a better chance in the primary, said Mason.

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Image Bar patron

"I think that's why Dean is making it his last stand. I think that's why Kucinich has a better chance of getting a couple more delegates," said Mason. "I think Wisconsin's independent, but I think they will also be influenced by the head of steam that Kerry has."

Howard Dean has backed away from his earlier statement that a loss in Wisconsin would end his campaign. But it is clear that Kerry has the advantage going into the primary. Kerry has devoted a lot of time to talking up his military record. The message resonated with Emily Kunesh,a member of the College Democrats.

"One of the greatest things that I've learned so far is about John Kerry being a decorated Vietnam War veteran. I thought that was great. I thought it was also great that Wesley Clark is a retired military general," Kunesh said. "I think all those things are pretty unique to the Democratic race this time."

Clark dropped out of the race on Wednesday and threw his support to Kerry, after a poor showing in Virginia and Tennessee. That was sad news to Mark McDonald, a patron at Emma's Bar and Cafe in downtown River Falls.

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Image Hardware store owner

"I liked Clark. I'm ex-military, so I would prefer someone that's got a little background in the military to be up running in something like that," McDonald said.

Military credentials are also important a block away at the South Fork Cafe. Charlie Cahalan, like a lot of the cafe's patrons, said it is not unusual for him to split his vote between Democrats and Republicans. Joe Lieberman could have had his vote this year, before he dropped out of the race. The rest of the Democratic candidates are unimpressive, particularly John Kerry, said Cahalan.

"He's a traitor to the Vietnam veteran. All the veterans that I talked to, the Vietnam veterans, he's a traitor," Calahan said. "I heard he was going to have Jane Fonda as his running mate, so I guess that would make a very good couple."

Cahalan is upset that Kerry openly opposed the war after returning from Vietnam. He said that undercut the soldiers who were still on the front lines.

Recently, a photograph surfaced on the Internet of Kerry sitting close to former activist Jane Fonda at an anti-Vietnam War rally in 1970. Fonda later angered many veterans during her 1972 trip to Hanoi to meet with North Vietnamese officials. A Kerry spokesperson said that Kerry and Fonda are "just acquaintances."

I think they've got good candidates who've got qualifications and I respect them for that. But when it really gets down and dirty, I think George W. will prevail.
- Fred Benson, River Falls, Wis. business owner

Charlie Cahalan said national security is very important to him, and he will probably vote for President Bush in the November election.

Former River Falls Mayor Cecil Bjork said he's upset that Kerry has been questioning Bush's military service. But at this point, Bjork concedes that Kerry appears unstoppable in his quest for the Democratic nomination.

"The only way that I think he's stoppable any place is when he trips and falls on his own statements, like Dean did," Bjork said.

Across the street at Lund's Hardware, owner Fred Benson said he says he probably won't vote for any Democrats this year either.

"I guess I'm kinda like the guys at the South Fork, where I tend to lean to the Bush side," Benson said. "But I think they've got good candidates who've got qualifications and I respect them for that. But when it really gets down and dirty, I think George W. will prevail."

Democratic leaders are pushing for the nomination fight to end, so their candidate can spend more time challenging President Bush. But John Edwards and Howard Dean said they will stick it out at least through Super Tuesday on March 2.

That's when voters in 10 states, including delegate-rich California and New York, go to the polls. Minnesota Democrats also hold their caucus that night. Other candidates include Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton. Both are polling in the single digits.

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