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Wisconsin presidential primary dominates ballot (UPDATE)

Associated Press

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets people during a campaign stop at a Cousins Subs in Waukesha on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (AP) — The Republican presidential primary is the only statewide race that voters are deciding as they trickle into polling sites across Wisconsin on Tuesday to fill out ballots devoted mostly to local issues.

But the heated GOP presidential race is expected to draw crowds. Election officials were predicting that 35 percent of the 4.3 million people of voting age would turn out, noting that was the turnout when Democrats were in the middle of a presidential nomination fight in 2008.

Wisconsin has an open primary, so anyone who wishes to vote in the presidential race can do so.
All four Republican presidential candidates campaigned in Wisconsin in the last week by holding rallies, sipping beers, bowling and giving lectures. The most visible were front-runner Mitt Romney and his chief rival, Rick Santorum, though only Romney was expected to be in Wisconsin when the voter tallies came in Tuesday night.

In Sun Prairie, a city of 30,000 just outside Madison, voters began walking into polling stations minutes after the doors opened at 7 a.m. Among them was 73-year-old retired engineer Jim Hathaway, who said he voted for Romney because of his experience.

“He’s already been down the road,” Hathaway said. “He’s a good businessman. He’s managed government functions before.”

John Ainsle, a 64-year-old state Department of Health Services employee, said he voted for Santorum, but only because Democratic President Barack Obama could defeat him soundly.

“He’s the most extreme,” Ainsle said. “He’s the most likely to lose to Barack Obama (and) I like what Obama’s doing.”

Steve Fenney wants Obama out and thinks the best chance lies with Romney.

“I definitely want Obamacare abolished and just the taxes are getting ridiculous so we need to get that back to a decent rate so it’s fair to everybody,” said Fenney, a 61-year-old Brookfield resident who owns a printer distributor.

Rick Defenbaugh, a 66-year-old retired real estate flipper, went with Romney, too. He said Santorum’s constant attacks on Romney have turned him into a “big crybaby.” Still, he said his vote was more a protest against Obama than a Romney endorsement.

“I never miss voting,” he said. “(But) I have yet to find an honest politician who’ll do what he says he’ll do. That includes Mitt Romney. … I’m mad at this country. I’m mad at our politicians.”

Voters also are deciding thousands of local races for offices such as mayor, school board and county board. Polls are open until 8 p.m.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, were in the state Monday. Romney was scheduled to be in Milwaukee on Tuesday night, though Santorum planned to spend the evening in his home state.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul made only one stop in Wisconsin, a boisterous rally that attracted about 2,500 in Madison last week. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made numerous stops in Wisconsin but planned to spend election day in Maryland.

There are 42 delegates at stake in Wisconsin, with 18 going to the statewide winner. The victor in each of the state’s eight congressional districts win three delegates, setting up the possibility that more than one candidate may come away at least a partial winner.

Weather shouldn’t be an impediment to voting, with warm temperatures forecast across much of the state and only isolated thunderstorms possible.

Restaurant owner Earl Richter, 58, of Brookfield, said he voted for Santorum because he’s more conservative. Richter said he also agrees with the former senator’s stance on fiscal issues and the national debt.

“I think anybody that can beat Obama is great,” he said. “I think Mitt Romney will do just fine. But my principles or my beliefs are just more in line with Rick Santorum.”

Michelle Mueller, 48, a business systems analyst from Brookfield, said she didn’t like any of the Republican candidates. She picked Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who has dropped out of the race, “even though I know she doesn’t really have a chance,” Mueller said. She said the country needs someone like Gov. Scott Walker to shake things up.

“It’s kind of the least of the worst, I guess,” Mueller said. “I did vote for Obama. But … I think it’s time for a change.”

Voters don’t need a photo ID at the polls, since the law requiring such identification has been blocked by two judges, though they will have to sign the poll book.

If a voter is asked to show ID, he or she should not comply and ask for a chief inspector, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which regulates elections in the state. If they are still told an ID is necessary, they should call the municipal clerk and, if necessary, the board, Magney said.

Maryland and Washington, D.C., were also holding presidential primaries Tuesday.

Bauer reported from Madison. Associated Press writer Carrie Antlfinger also contributed from Brookfield.

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