Wisconsin is a state of simple, hearty pleasures. They enjoy beer and bratwurst, produce cheese and Harleys, and obsess over Green Bay football. But the state is also hosting one of the most caustic, competitive races in the nation, complete with barnstorming candidates and blanketed airwaves.
Tailgaters outside a Milwaukee Brewers game need no reminder that they live in a battleground state.
"Are we aware? Do you not watch television?" said Wisconsin voter Bonnie Nabak.
"Yes, we know that quite well," added her husband, Jerry.
In the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush lost in Wisconsin by fewer than 6,000 votes, just 0.2 percent. This year, both sides agree: If there is one Democratic state that is most likely to be picked off by the president, Wisconsin is it.
The president does have liabilities, though, such as a loss of nearly 80,000 manufacturing jobs and a war in Iraq whose casualties hit close to home.
"I'd like to see this war that we got involved in end somehow someway," said Jerry Nabak.
Kerry's Slip of the Tongue
Sen. John Kerry's liabilities include mistakenly calling Lambeau Field, hallowed home of the Green Bay Packers, "Lambert Field."
The president jumped on Kerry's fumble.
"If someone offers you a cheese head, don't say you want some wine, just put it on your head and take a seat at Lambeau Field," Bush said during a campaign stop.
Democrats say winning Wisconsin means boosting turnout in the inner cities, which may prove to be a real challenge.
Local vote organizer Carol Stegall said she thinks many people think their vote "doesn't make a difference. I think Florida's a good example of what happened, because the votes weren't counted. If you go talk to folks and I say, 'Let's go vote.' They say, 'My vote don't count.' "
Democrats accuse right wing groups of running radio ads designed to turn off black voters.
One ad, paid for by People of Color United, ridicules Teresa Heinz Kerry for calling herself African-American: "I don't believe a white woman, raised in Africa, surrounded by servants, qualifies," the ad said.
While Democrats tout their unprecedented ground operation in America's dairy land, with six weeks to go and polls not going their way, they are, in the words of one operative, on "high alert."