Mitt Romney will rally supporters Monday in suburban Milwaukee; President Barack Obama is visiting Green Bay on Tuesday; and Paul Ryan will follow the president to the home of Lambeau Field and will make two other Wisconsin stops on Wednesday. And both the campaigns and their super PACs, after only coming on the air in September, are ratcheting up their TV spending here, making Green Bay now the most heavily bought market in America.
Suddenly, the Badger State is looking more like it did in 2000 and 2004, when presidential hopefuls lavished attention on the cheese and beer-loving people between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, and the campaigns were decided by less than a percentage point. Independent observers here still give Obama the edge at the moment — but barely.
What gives Republicans a measure of both hope and concern are the two preceding events this year that thrust Wisconsin into the national spotlight: the contentious and unsuccessful June recall of Gov. Scott Walker and Romney’s selection in August of Janesville’s Ryan as his running mate.
But what makes Republicans uneasy about their prospects next month can also be traced back to the recall and the Ryan pick.
About 500,000 voters who cast ballots in the 2008 election didn’t show up for the recall, which Walker won by seven points. Political veterans in both parties here believe those Wisconsinites are likely Obama voters if he can turn them out again.
“If you’re not involved or engaged enough to come out for the Walker recall,” freshman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said a bit incredulously, adding, “I’m a little concerned about the half-million voters. That is the only reason this thing would be close.”
Further, while the selection of Ryan lifted Republican hopes here for the first time and threw a scare into Democrats, what came after has left GOP veterans befuddled: Romney didn’t come back to the state following a joint rally he held the day after he put the young House Budget Committee chairman on the ticket in mid-August. Only Ryan has been on the trail here over the past two months.
This has long been a place of a divided political mind. Wisconsin sent both red-baiter Joseph McCarthy and liberal Earth Day father Gaylord Nelson to the Senate and more recently, repeatedly elected former Sen. Russ Feingold, a progressive stalwart, while also making conservative Tommy Thompson one of the longest-serving governors in the nation. And the split continues today, not just in the presidential race but also in the closely contested Senate race between Thompson and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Madison liberal and open lesbian.
“Political schizophrenia” is how Paul Maslin, the Madison-based Democratic pollster, describes his state.
Obama won by 14 percentage points in 2008, flipping 32 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties from red to blue. As noted by Madison’s Capital Times in a lengthy piece about the state’s independent streak, there was more county turnover in the presidential race from 2004 to 2008 than any other state in the nation.
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