The Field: In Wisconsin, America’s Divisions Laid Bare

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At the heart of one race for the Wisconsin State Assembly are some of the same political cracks splitting the U.S. as a whole. Some believe keeping businesses running is a priority during the coronavirus pandemic; others think keeping people safe and healthy should be given precedence.

Rob Swearingen is a four-time Republican assemblyman and owner of a local restaurant. He challenged the lockdown imposed by Wisconsin’s governor and, since reopening his business, has taken a loose interpretation of the mask mandate.

His Democratic challenger, Kirk Bangstad, has strictly followed statewide edicts, opening his restaurant outdoors in the summer and, when there were coronavirus infections among his staff, closing down until all could be tested.

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What do the different approaches reveal about Wisconsin politics and about broader American divisions? Reid J. Epstein, a politics reporter for The New York Times, and Andy Mills and Luke Vander Ploeg, audio producers for The Times, went to the state to find out.

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On today’s episode

Reid J. Epstein, who covers campaigns and elections for The New York Times.

Andy Mills, a senior audio producer for The Times.

Luke Vander Ploeg, an audio producer for The Times.

Background reading

Here’s Reid’s story about how the virus has divided the conservative town of Minocqua, Wis.

President Trump and Joe Biden barnstormed through battleground states, concluding an extraordinary campaign conducted amid a health crisis and deep economic anxiety.

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Reid J. Epstein contributed reporting.

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