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Check in with three battleground states: Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Let's look now at three states where voter turnout could make all the difference and help determine the balance of power in Washington. Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin are all swing states, and we've got reporters in each of them, starting with NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben in Oconomowoc, Wis. Danielle, what's on the minds of voters that you've been talking with today?

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Well, let's start with Democrats here. And for them, a lot of them will tell you that democracy is on the ballot. And, of course, you'll hear that everywhere from a lot of people. But it seems to mean something at least a little different for each voter. Let me start with a woman named Georgann Dockery (ph). I met her at a rally for the incumbent Democratic governor, Tony Evers. She said democracy is her top issue. And I asked her, OK, what does that mean? And here's how she responded.

GEORGANN DOCKERY: Well, it's important for women's health. It's important for Social Security. It's important for everything that we need to do - our religious rights, everything. And I want to make sure that I was out here to support.

KURTZLEBEN: So voters see this as a - a lot of them will tell you, as the most important election of their lifetimes. We've been hearing that in a lot of elections recently. And - but Democrats will tell you that democracy is their top issue and that it safeguards all of the other issues that they care about. Here in Wisconsin specifically, one of the things that that means to Democrats is that the Republican-led legislature has been trying to pass laws in recent years to tighten voting laws, for example, around absentee voting. Now, Governor Tony Evers has vetoed those. So one question tonight is whether Evers will win the governorship. But even if he does, it's possible that Republicans could win a veto-proof majority in the state legislature. So there is a lot that Democrats are thinking about, gaming out. And one other thing is, of course, abortion, like Georgann mentioned there. It's a really huge issue here. After the Dobbs ruling this year, an 1800s-era law - at least one that originated then - went into effect here that has very few exceptions banning abortions. So, yes, voters here see this as a hugely important election.

SHAPIRO: And what about the importance of inflation to voters in Wisconsin, which we're hearing a lot about how important this is to voters?

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. Once again, if you ask some Republican voters, they will tell you this is the most important election because inflation. That was certainly true for Diane Koop (ph). I met her at a rally in Madison for incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson. Here's what she said.

DIANE KOOP: Every year, they say this is the biggest and most important election. This is really big. If we can't stop the Democrats and their out-of-control spending, our dollar means nothing any more because they keep printing more and more and more. So this is really important to try and put a check on their power.

KURTZLEBEN: And, of course, this is something that you often hear from the party that is out of power, out of, for example, the White House during midterms, which is we need to put a check on the other party's power. So you hear a lot of that from Republicans.

SHAPIRO: All right. Let's turn to Arizona now, where NPR's Ximena Bustillo is in Phoenix. And, Ximena, what have you been hearing from voters on the subject of inflation?

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Yes. I mean, definitely agree that inflation and rising gas and food prices definitely continue to be on the minds of voters across the political spectrum unprompted when asked what it is that they care about. And that's why some analysts are saying that Arizona in this election is sort of a referendum on the Biden administration and a referendum on the America First movement. The results could be telling of which direction the state wants to go and what it sees as solutions to larger issues like the rising prices. I talked to voters who blame Biden for inflation and want to reject the Democrats, not necessarily vote for the Republicans.

JASON CHIN: It was kind of more of a I'm not voting for Mark Kelly than voting for Blake Masters. That's more of what it is with that race.

BUSTILLO: And that was Jason Chin (ph). I met him during a GOP rally yesterday where he was dead set on voting on some of the GOP candidates but not on all the others. But he definitely didn't want to continue voting in the Democrats. However, at the same time, I've also talked to voters who are voting for Democrats despite high inflation because they fear some of the GOP talking points about democracy and election security, particularly in Arizona, which we know was the center of a lot of election conspiracy theories after 2020.

SHAPIRO: What about President Biden's message that democracy is on the ballot? Does that seem to be resonating with the voters you're talking to?

BUSTILLO: There are quite a few candidates on the GOP side of the ballot, including Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem and the governor candidate, Kari Lake, that throughout the campaign have either denied the 2020 election results or hedged on whether or not they will accept defeat if that happens later. However, many voters still believe that it's their civic duty to vote, whether it's by mail or in person. I went to a couple locations earlier this morning, Chandler Gilbert Community College and the Gilbert Public Works Department, both in areas that are traditionally more Republican leaning, and both had steady turnout. And almost everyone - Republicans, independents and Democrats - when I first asked them why it is that they were there and what brought them out, instead of some policy proposals, they said that it was because it's their responsibility, and it's their job as American citizens to vote. So whether or not that's the whole idea of democracy being on the ballot, that depends on how the elections kind of turn out.

SHAPIRO: All right. Finally, let's get the view from Georgia, where Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting is in Atlanta. And, Stephen, the Republican candidates for governor and secretary of state there have both defended the 2020 election results. How is that democracy message we've been talking about playing with voters in Georgia?

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: So, Ari, it's a really interesting situation here. Voters, by and large, are over false claims of election fraud. In the Republican primary this year, they overwhelmingly supported incumbents like Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who pushed back heavily on those claims. That means some of these candidates might get more bipartisan support than usual. And it's really harder to say that the fight for democracy is on the ballot when everybody from both major parties agrees about elections and election results. But Democrats say that not committing treason and not overturning the election is a very low bar and is a bare minimum, not the maximum those people should do. And they argue voting for Democratic candidates is better for democracy in the bigger national picture, especially considering states like Arizona we just heard about where election deniers have a chance of winning.

SHAPIRO: Georgia is also one of a handful of states that could determine whether Republicans control the Senate. Is the national importance of Georgia's Senate race something that voters are aware of, is important to them?

FOWLER: Absolutely. You know, in many ways, it kind of feels like "Groundhog Day" because just like in 2020 and 2021 runoffs, Georgia here is a place where there's close races, national attention, the potential to decide who controls the chamber of Congress. I mean, I've heard from voters on both sides of the aisle who say their choice, especially in the Senate race, is absolutely more about what they think is right for the direction of our country and not just the Peach State.

SHAPIRO: That is Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta, NPR's Ximena Bustillo in Phoenix, Ariz., and NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben in Oconomowoc, Wis. Thanks to all three of you.

KURTZLEBEN: No problem.

FOWLER: Thank you.

BUSTILLO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Fowler is the Producer/Back-Up Host for All Things Considered and a creative storyteller hailing from McDonough, Georgia. He graduated from Emory University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. The program combined the best parts of journalism, marketing, digital media and music into a thesis on the rise of the internet rapper via the intersectionality of social media and hip-hop. He served as the first-ever Executive Digital Editor of The Emory Wheel, where he helped lead the paper into a modern digital era.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.
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