Wis. voters look for candidates to create jobs

SCOTT BAUER - Associated Press
Republican U.S. Senate challenger Ron Johnson thanks a supporter for making phone calls on his behalf on Monday, Nov. 1, 2010, at a GOP campaign office in the Milwaukee suburb of Glendale, Wis.   (AP Photo/Dinesh Ramde)
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Republican U.S. Senate challenger Ron Johnson thanks a supporter for making phone calls on his behalf on Monday, Nov. 1, 2010, at a GOP campaign office in the Milwaukee suburb of Glendale, Wis.

Wisconsin's high unemployment rate was on voters' minds Tuesday as they looked for leaders who could turn around the state's troubled economy.

"It's all so intertwined," said Michele Braze, a 50-year-old bookkeeper from the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa. "The economy is obviously huge. It affects everything else."

Mike Friedman, 60, a tax consultant from the Milwaukee suburb of Whitefish Bay, said he voted for Democrat Tom Barrett for governor because the Milwaukee mayor has "done a better job creating jobs, he's more open-minded, and he's brighter" than the Republican candidate, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker.

But Carolyn Thorpe, a 65-year-old administrative assistant at Calvary Gospel Church in Madison, said she thought Walker's promise to cut taxes would give the state its best shot at economic recovery.

"He will get the fiscal situation in Wisconsin back in order," Carolyn Thorpe said. "More jobs will be created under his leadership."

The two Milwaukee-area leaders are competing for an open seat after Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle decided not to seek a third term. With unemployment at 7.8 percent, nearly double what it was four years ago, Doyle has seen the worst approval ratings of his tenure.

"I'm very lucky to have a job, that I still have one," said Jeff Beaudoin, a 52-year-old fire inspector who liked both candidates but picked Walker. "That's a big focus right now, more jobs."

The economy also was weighing heavily in Wisconsin's hotly contested Senate race, where polls have shown Republican businessman Ron Johnson leading Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.

In Sun Prairie, Steve Villand, a 67-year-old retiree, said he went with Johnson because he thought his background in business would put him in a better position to create jobs than Feingold. Johnson runs a plastics firm in Oshkosh.

"Being a businessman, he'll make things happen faster than his competition," Villand said.

Carolyn Kurbonov, 40, a Whitefish Bay case manager for older adults, however, chose Feingold because she thought Johnson's lack of political experience would be a problem.

"You can't walk into the Senate without any experience and make changes, or believe that you can do that," she said.

Knocking off Feingold, an 18-year incumbent, and capturing the governor's office for the first time in eight years have been top on Republicans' list this year as the GOP aimed to ride a national wave of discontent to big victories in many states.

Both parties poured big money into the races, which were likely to set new records for spending, according to a nonpartisan government watchdog group. Common Cause in Wisconsin estimated $45 million to $50 million had been spent in the governor's race and $40 million to $45 million on the Senate race.

Johnson spent nearly $7 million of his own money and about $17 million total, Common Cause estimated. Polls leading up to the election showed him with a narrow lead.

Walker also was leading Barrett in polls in the governor's race.

Democrats have been largely on the defensive this year, trying to maintain the seats they already control. Five of Wisconsin's eight congressional districts were held by Democrats, but Republicans were targeting the open seat in central Wisconsin's 7th District and the 8th District seat held by U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen. Also in play was western Wisconsin's 3rd District seat held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Kind.

All 99 of the seats in the state Assembly were to be decided, 17 state Senate seats and lower-profile races for attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer.

The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board reported heavy voter turnout across the state. It said it had received reports from three towns of voters wrongly being asked to show photo identification. Wisconsin does not require people to show photo IDs before voting.

Turnout had been expected to be about 50 percent of the voting-age population, roughly the same as in 2006 when Doyle won re-election and Democrats captured majority control of the state Senate. Democrats took control of the Assembly two years later as President Barack Obama carried the state by 14-points.