SLINGER, Wis. (AP) — It's Friday night at the Nite Owls Tavern. There's basketball on the TVs, beer and brandy Old Fashioneds in the glasses, fried fish on the plates — and good-natured conversation that largely eschews the presidential election that seems so far from this cozy, small-town watering hole.
But conflicting opinions are clear when the question is posed: Which of the candidates would be the best drinking companion?
Not Republican front-runner Donald Trump, says Catherine LeRose, 50, a cook at the bar who supports Hillary Clinton. "I would never drink a beer with him. I would pour a beer on his head."
Not Democratic leader Hillary Clinton, says Dan Gremonprez, 65, of West Bend, a retired engineer: "God no. She sounds fake."
Andy Jamesch, a 45-year-old former factory worker who also cooks at the bar, is less vehement — maybe, he says, because "I will pretty much drink with anybody."
The "beer test" may seem like a silly way to decide who to vote for in an election for leader of the free world, but it is not unreasonable: People generally want to vote for candidates they like, it's true, but they also want to support folks who are regular Joes or Jills — or at least folks who are regular enough to understand what it is like to be in their shoes.
And if the chatter at the Nite Owls is any indication, no candidate easily passes that test.
Jamesch hasn't been able to get a better job since he was laid off several years ago. Both his parents have died and he is the primary caretaker for his mentally disabled older brother. Last year he earned just $6,000.
Knocking back a Miller Lite at the end of a shift, Jamesch questioned whether any politician would make a difference.
"I was trying to pick a candidate that benefits me, but none really do," said Jamesch, who has not decided how he will vote in Wisconsin's April 5 primary. "Most people don't know what the average person is going through. These presidential candidates think they know what people are going through, they don't."
Looking ahead to the fall, the beer barometer could be an issue for Clinton and Trump, who both struggle with likeability issues.
A recent national poll from Quinnipiac University showed that both are viewed positively within their own parties, but have negative favorability ratings among general election voters. Clinton was viewed unfavorably by 56 percent of voters overall and Trump by 61 percent. Republican Ted Cruz — who is leading the GOP primary race in Wisconsin — also had a negative rating before general election voters, with 47 percent viewing him unfavorably. The survey of 1,451 registered voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
The crowd at Nite Owls was just a snapshot of the electorate in what could be a battleground general election state. Overall the views leaned Republican, as Slinger, a village of just over 5,000 people located in southeast Wisconsin, is a conservative area. The surrounding county overwhelmingly supported Mitt Romney for president in 2012 and the local state representative is a Republican. Cruz and Trump clearly had more support than Clinton or rival Bernie Sanders, who appears to have an edge in the state's Democratic primary race.
Going after the beer vote is campaign tradition. In 2012, Obama downed a brew at the Iowa State Fair and the White House released a recipe for White House Honey Brown Ale, believed to be the first beer brewed on the White House grounds.
This year Clinton has sipped a Guinness in Youngstown, Ohio and sampled the wares at a La Crosse, Wisconsin brewery. Trump has done little of that kind of retail politicking and does not drink alcohol. Cruz in a debate last year noted that while he may not be a guy people want to drink beer with, but "if you want someone to drive you home, I will get the job done and I will get you home."
Clinton's campaign is hopeful that in a general contest, voter dislike of Trump will motivate strong turnout on her behalf. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email that the favorability ratings were being overplayed by the media and called the argument that he can't win in November as a result "absurd."
Some in Nite Owls — like bartender Timothy Amstadt, 27, of Slinger, who prefers Sanders to Trump or Clinton — were troubled by their options.
"I think we are absolutely doomed, if either one of them becomes president," he said. "I probably would not even vote."
Likeability aside, Jamesch said he was more interested in who could help someone like him get ahead.
"Everything is being shipped to Mexico and China," he said, though he noted he enjoys his current gig and the time it affords him with his brother. "They aren't looking for a guy like me."
Should the candidates make it to Slinger, they would be welcomed by some. Sitting next to Jamesch at the long, wooden bar is Harlow Stork, 58, a burly bearded man, nicknamed Santa. He's not sure who he would vote for, though he is thinking about Cruz.
Stork said he doesn't drink beer, but joked that he'd share a beverage with "all of them."
If, he added, "they buy it."