'I'm still exhaling': Swing-state voters on Biden's 100 days

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THOMAS BEAUMONT
·4 min read
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ELM GROVE, Wisconsin (AP) — On the sidelines of her son’s soccer practice in upscale Elm Grove, Wisconsin, Laura Hahn said President Joe Biden is doing well 100 days into his presidency.

But she attributed the opinion as much to relief as analysis.

“I’m still exhaling,” Hahn said, referencing the tumult of former President Donald Trump's term. “It’s been exhausting.”

At Biden's 100-day milestone, most Americans are like Hahn — giving the new president positive marks, polls show.

But in this pocket of swing-state Wisconsin, interviews with voters show support often falls short of adulation. Biden gets credit for bringing stability to the pandemic, but goodwill only goes so far.

Some worry about Biden’s massive spending plans. Others lament him not taking action on policing reform. He's won over few Republicans, who say he's using a health crisis to push a liberal agenda.

Despite these concerns, many voters said they were just enjoying the reprieve from jaw-dropping headlines from the White House.

“I’m not surprised or shocked by anything he’s done,” said Jana Elkadri, a 40-year-old chief financial officer for a nonprofit group, as she watched the soccer practice from the parking lot.

Elkadri approves of Biden generally, though she worries he’s a tad optimistic on the course of the pandemic.

Elm Grove is whiter and wealthier than most of America. But it helped him carry Wisconsin.

Women like Hahn and Elkadri were key to the narrow victory.

Hahn, 39, was pleased by Biden’s plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. “If we haven’t fixed anything in 20 years, bring them home,” she said.

Besides dozens of executive orders, Biden won narrow congressional approval for $1.9 trillion aimed at COVID-19 relief. He has since proposed another $4 trillion in spending, including $2.3 trillion for infrastructure and $1.8 trillion for free preschool and other family and education programs.

Biden’s “go-big” approach was not on the ballot, some say.

“The November election wasn’t a mandate for this kind of sweeping change,” said former state Rep. Rob Hutton, a Republican from nearby Brookfield.

Yet for some Democrats, Biden isn’t thinking big enough — particularly on issues fundamental to his candidacy.

Chris Alexander, a Democrat new to nearby Wauwatosa, said Biden is doing “OK” but hasn’t been aggressive enough on tackling police violence against Black people.

Biden declared in a speech Wednesday that “we have to come together” to root out systemic racism in policing, echoing remarks after ex-police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction in the death of George Floyd. He called on Congress to pass legislation by May 25, the anniversary of Floyd’s death.

“Nothing’s still been done,” Alexander said of Biden’s new goal. “We can talk about what we want until we’re blue in the face. But if nothing is put in place, what happens in the weeks leading up, when people continue to go through police brutality?"

Alexander is part of a political shift sweeping Milwaukee's once GOP-dominant suburbs, including the village of Elm Grove. Families have poured across the Milwaukee County line seeking its enviable schools and stately homes.

No Democrat has come close to winning Waukesha County. Democrat Barack Obama won just 32% of the vote in 2012. Biden received almost 40%, more than any of his party’s predecessors. He even nearly tied Trump in the village of Elm Grove, where Obama got just 30% in 2012.

Biden pulled 7,500 more votes out of Waukesha County than Democrat Hillary Clinton did in 2016, a good chunk of his 20,682-vote, Wisconsin winning margin.

In a late March AP-NORC poll, 65% percent of Americans living in suburban areas approved of Biden’s job performance, a figure on par with Biden’s approval with Americans overall. The same poll found only a quarter of Republicans approve of his early days in office.

Republican Neil Palmer, Elm Grove’s longtime village president, disapproves. He’s frustrated by Biden’s moves on immigration and called the increase of migrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border a “self-inflicted crisis.”

Palmer also chafed at the price tag on the Biden's proposed spending.

“I not only have children, but grandchildren and they can’t afford this government,” the 70-year-old said.

And yet as the area changes, Palmer’s view on government’s role is less dominant.

Lawyer Patrick Proctor Brown applauded Biden’s infrastructure plan, as a potential economic boon.

He'd hoped Biden would be just as bold on taxes, and was disappointed when the Democrat walked away from a proposal to to tax fortunes greater than $50 million.

“Billionaires who have doubled their wealth in the last year, they are not going to have to pay for that at some point?” Brown asked.

While Biden’s supporters here express relief over what they call decency's returning to the presidency, Elkadri said it will take more for Biden to be a successful president.

And it won’t be she who decides, she told her 11-year-old son.

“I told him it would be up to his generation,” she said.