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Wisconsin roundup: Final U.S. Senate debate set; Trump suggests Ryan might have reason for cool support; 10 more state news stories

MILWAUKEE -- A second and final statewide debate will be staged Tuesday night for Wisconsin's U.S. Senate candidates.

Republican incumbent Ron Johnson and former Senate Democrat Russ Feingold will square off in a 90 minute forum beginning at 8:30 p.m. from Milwaukee's Marquette Law School. It will be broadcast statewide.

Johnson and Feingold sparred Friday night on numerous policy differences, support for their party's presidential candidates, Johnson's response to the drug prescription scandal at the Tomah VA Medical Center, and more. The two are in a tight contest, as the latest Marquette poll has Feingold with a 2-point lead, a statistical dead heat when the poll's margin of error is figured in.


Trump: Maybe Ryan doesn't want him to win

GREEN BAY -- Donald Trump says it's possible that Wisconsin's Paul Ryan doesn't want him to win the presidency.

Before Monday night's rally in Green Bay, the Republican nominee told ABC's Tom Llamas that Ryan, the GOP House speaker from Janesville, might want to run for president himself in four years -- or "maybe he doesn't know how to win." In an interview for broadcast on "Good Morning America" Tuesday, Trump said he didn't want to be "knocking" Ryan -- but he said the speaker could be more supportive.

Trump did not mention Ryan's name during his speech in Green Bay. But the crowd made derogatory chants against him, and state GOP chairman Brad Courtney released a statement of support for Ryan after the event.


State ag research Drendel dies

MARSHFIELD -- A church service will be held Wednesday in Marshfield to honor one of Wisconsin's top agricultural research and safety experts.

Sixty-three-year-old Tom Drendel died last Thursday, ending a long bout with cancer. He served as a UW agricultural agent in Marinette and Jefferson counties, and was a feed consultant in Iowa before he spent 24 years as superintendent of the UW Agricultural Research Station in Marshfield, retiring in 2009.

Drendel later became a safety specialist for the Marshfield Clinic's National Farm Medicine Center, and he retired from the industry for good in 2012. He also led a number of Marshfield community groups and causes -- and for the last 15 years, Drendel was part of the Civil War Trust in which he became a Civil War re-enactor.


New program gives horses new leases on life

COLFAX -- More than 30 horses have been given new leases on life, thanks to a new program from the Horse Plus Humane Society in western Wisconsin.

The group held an event in Colfax during the weekend, in which people were given a chance to adopt horses in bad health or financial problems of their previous owners. Larry Dowell of the Horse Plus Humane Society says the western Wisconsin program is the first of its kind, and until now, there was not a safe way to donate horses.

Dowell says some of the "really sick" animals need to be euthanized. But his group says it wants to find new homes for as many of the horses as possible.


State coffers finish fiscal year with $318M balance

MADISON -- Wisconsin had a "gross balance" of almost $319 million as it began the second and final year of its current state budget in July.

That's according to the state Administration Department, which reported a slightly lower balance than the $390 million it projected in June. The difference is less than one-half of one percent of the state's total general fund.

State revenues for the last fiscal year totaled $15 billion, which is $556 million more than the previous year. Income and sales tax collections increased from the previous year, but corporate tax revenues were down -- and the administration says the state's expenses were $103 million less than it budgeted for the year ending June 30.


La Crosse-area interstate bridge to be dedicated Friday

DRESBACH, Minn. -- The top transportation officials from both Wisconsin and Minnesota will help dedicate new Interstate bridge at La Crosse on Friday morning.

Wisconsin DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb and Gopher State DOT Commissioner Charles Zelle will officially open the Interstate 90 bridge across the Mississippi River from the La Crosse area to Dresbach, Minnesota. The $189 million project includes two structures slightly upstream from the old bridges, with full access to the Minnesota Welcome Center and boat launches on the Mississippi from both directions.

For the last four years, motorists have had to deal with detours, lane closures, and slowdowns. In 2013, a construction worker was seriously injured after he fell 45 feet from the bridge onto a coffer dam below.


Culver's mourns loss of CEO

PRAIRIE DU SAC -- The Wisconsin based Culver's butter burger and frozen custard chain is mourning the loss of its CEO.

The company says Phil Keiser died Saturday from natural causes, and he would have turned 61 on Monday. Keiser was with Culver's for two decades -- and he became the CEO last year, overseeing 580 mostly franchised restaurants in 24 states with more than 20,000 employees.

Craig Culver, who cofounded the chain based in Prairie du Sac, says the firm would not be what it is without Keiser's influence. Culver will be interim CEO until a new leader can be named.


Wisconsin realtors on pace for record home sales year

MADISON -- Wisconsin realtors say they're on pace for record sales of existing homes this year.

The Realtors Association says its members sold almost 7,600 houses throughout the Badger State in September. That's almost 7 percent more than the same month the previous year. The average selling price of $167,000 was almost 8 percent higher than last September.

Realtors Association board chairman Erik Sjowall says home sales are at their highest level since at least 2004. As the available supply remained small, Sjowall says realtors could have sold more "if they had more to sell." For the first nine months of 2016, Wisconsin Realtors sold almost 63,000 houses, which is an increase of 5 percent, which featured a 4.8 percent jump in the median sales price of $165,000.


Voter fraud contributes to 'rigged' election, Trump says in Green Bay

GREEN BAY -- Donald Trump told 3,000 supporters in Green Bay that voter fraud will "rig" the election against him.

The Republican White House nominee has said that more favorable news coverage of Democrat Hillary Clinton would tilt the election her way. On Monday night at Green Bay's KI Convention Center, Trump referred to Pew Research data in saying that "more than 1.8 million deceased individuals right now are listed as voters," and in Trump's words, "So many cities are corrupt that voter fraud is very, very common."

However, UW-Madison journalism professor Mike Wagner tells the Wisconsin Radio Network that Trump's claims may hurt his campaign while being harmful to democracy. Wagner says it's striking that a major presidential candidate would make such claims without what he called a "shred of evidence."


Wisconsin has sixth-highest grad rate, but widest racial gap

MADISON -- Wisconsin has the nation's sixth highest graduation rate for high school students, but it also has the country's widest gap between black and white students.

The U.S. Education Department says 88-point-four percent of Wisconsin seniors earned their diplomas in the standard four years -- five-percent more than the national average. But only 64-percent of black youngsters in Wisconsin graduate on time, compared to 77-percent of Hispanic students and 93-percent of whites. Racial gaps have been an issue in Wisconsin for years -- and now, state public school Superintendent Tony Evers says he'll ask lawmakers to let the Milwaukee Public Schools start earlier than September first, so students can catch up on credits. Evers says it's time to do things "differently" in Milwaukee, saying if they can do "credit recovery in a robust way, that could raise the graduation rate."


GOP plans to address shortage of health care workers

MADISON -- As Wisconsin's population gets older, almost two dozen GOP state lawmakers are working on a package of bills to boost the numbers of health care professionals, especially in rural areas.

Assembly Republican Ed Brooks of Reedsburg tells Wisconsin Public Radio he wants to improve a health care workforce that's getting older by adding more experts in mental health, OB-GYN, and other areas with the biggest needs.

Twenty-three GOP lawmakers plan to introduce $3.5 million in the next session to address rural health care, as part of the Rural Wisconsin Initiative. Brooks says younger residents are leaving rural areas, and they'll need incentives to help communities thrive. The state's hospital association says about 1.5 million of the state's 5.7 million residents live in rural areas.


Judge OKs voting credential handouts

MADISON -- A federal judge has given the OK for the distribution of new handouts explaining how people who lack photo identification can get alternative voting credentials.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson ordered the Wisconsin Department of Transportation last week to clarify the process for obtaining the credentials in the wake of media reports that showed Division of Motor Vehicle employees were giving people inaccurate information about what documents they needed and how long it would take to receive the credentials. Judge Peterson ordered the agency to produce simple, one-page explanations of the process to distribute to voting advocacy groups and to applicants as they leave DMV stations so they know what they'll receive. He also ordered the DOT to clarify an online explanation.