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As GOP Candidates Head To Wisconsin, Voters Are Still Playing The Field

Milwaukee Hosts Republican Presidential Primary Debate Tuesday Night

Scottie Lee Meyers/WPR

In the wake of Tuesday night’s Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee, many likely voters are still trying to make up their minds — including many of the Wisconsin conservatives who went to see the contenders that visited town early.

Two presidential hopefuls from Florida, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and the state’s former Gov. Jeb Bush, both held events near Milwaukee Monday. During a rally in Pewaukee, Rubio promoted technical college education, called for more competition for universities, and promised a stronger foreign policy.

“We have a president who treats the prime minister of Israel with less respect than what he gives the ayatollah of Iran. And that’s why on my first day in office … I will cancel this reckless deal with Iran,” Rubio said.

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Opposition to the Iran nuclear arms deal and Rubio’s promise to beef up the U.S. military were enough to put Oak Creek resident Sue Phillips in the senator’s camp.

“The fact that we need to be a stronger nation to our adversaries, that is the most important thing to me,” said Phillips. “We need to be the nation we used to be, that we aren’t anymore.”

Hartland resident Mark Kelley, however, isn’t ready to commit to Rubio. In part, Kelly said, that’s because he sees a parallel with former Illinois senator and now-President Barack Obama.

“I’m certainly willing to give him a chance, but senators have not had a good history of becoming powerful chief executives,” Kelly said.

Based on the latest national poll numbers, it’s evident Kelley isn’t alone: Rubio trails Ben Carson and Donald Trump by a considerable margin.

Bush, meanwhile, spoke at an event hosted by the group Hispanics for School Choice, and promoted his record on school vouchers in Florida.

“Now 80,000 students are going to private schools because I took on very powerful interests, just as (Gov.) Scott Walker has done to expand the voucher program statewide,” Bush said.

Walker appeared alongside Bush in the gym of a Latino charter school in Waukesha, but has made it clear he’s not endorsing anyone yet, if at all.

The same is true for Larry Pesch of the school’s operating agency, La Casa de Esperanza: “I’m undecided,” he said.

Pesch called Bush an honorable candidate, one of several in the GOP field.

“I’m an awfully big believer in the character of a person. It’s almost as important to me as their politics,” he said.

Julio Maldonado, a voucher school parent from Milwaukee, said he wants families to have more educational choice. He said he likes both Rubio and Bush because the two have been more open to expanded immigration compared with the rest of the Republican field.

“I have family that have been going through the system, have gone through the system in the past,” Maldonado said. “And I want to make sure they have received the right service for that.”

However, Maldonado said he’s undecided to the point where he hasn’t ruled out voting for a Democrat in 2016.

Tuesday, Republican candidate Rand Paul also campaigned ahead of the debate, holding a roundtable in Milwaukee on school vouchers.

The eight leading Republican candidates will square off in the main debate hosted by Fox Business Network at 8 p.m. after four take part in an undercard debate at 6 p.m.