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Wisconsin Votes After Fiercely Fought Battle

By , New York Times - April 3, 2012

WAUKESHA, Wis. — As Wisconsin voters went to the polls on Tuesday in the first hard-fought Republican presidential primary in the state since 1980, many echoed the arguments made by the two main rivals on the campaign trail.

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A voter looks at a district map on Tuesday at a polling station in Lodi, Wis.

Mitt Romney’s supporters said he was the best choice to defeat President Obama and they urged their fellow Republicans to unite behind him. Those favoring Rick Santorum praised his rock-ribbed conservatism and argued that the contest isn’t over until it’s over.

“I spoke to my dad, who’s very political, and he figured Romney has the best chance of beating Obama — that’s what it came down to,” said Brandy Holtz, 42, who works for a tree company in this suburb of Milwaukee.

Greg Torres, 25, a state transportation employee, said Mr. Santorum “seems like somebody who’s going to stick with what he says.”

“I think a long fought-out primary will be helpful in getting the message out,” he added.

Polls in the past week have shown Mr. Romney, who trailed Mr. Santorum in mid-February, solidifying a lead in Wisconsin.

Although there are also primaries on Tuesday in Maryland and Washington, D.C., Mr. Romney is expected to win those contests easily, and so it has been this state, with 42 delegates at stake, where both leading candidates have campaigned hardest.

Mr. Santorum, looking for another Midwestern victory to add to his wins in neighboring Iowa and Minnesota, virtually camped out here, visiting some two dozen counties, mostly in rural areas.

He implored audiences to vote, saying the key to an upset would be large turnouts in the rural regions, with about 40 percent of the statewide electorate, to swamp Romney supporters in Green Bay and Milwaukee.

Mr. Santorum has visited bowling alleys and brew pubs and ate his first fried cheese curds in search of cultural connections with voters. “This is the first time since Iowa where I felt like I was getting in touch with the people in the community,” he said.

Mr. Romney has made far fewer appearances, but he targeted his visits carefully to Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay and especially the conservative belt of suburbs around Milwaukee.

Here in Waukesha County, which had had some of the highest turnouts historically in Republican primaries in the state, John McCain beat a more conservative alternative, Mike Huckabee, in 2008 by more than 30 percentage points.

Mr. Romney won the endorsement of the state’s most prominent national conservative, Representative Paul D. Ryan, who on Monday was by his side at rallies in Green Bay and Milwaukee.

Several people who voted for Mr. Romney cited the endorsement, as well as Mr. Romney’s embrace of Mr. Ryan’s recent budget plan promising $5 trillion more in cuts than President Obama has proposed. “That really put it over the top for me,” said Steve Dermody, 52, a printing industry salesman. “We’d love to see Paul Ryan as a running mate here in Wisconsin.”

So confident is Mr. Romney that over the weekend he predicted victory in Wisconsin and said it would put him “on a path that will get me the nomination well before the convention.”

He never mentioned his Republican rivals while campaigning on Monday, focusing his attacks exclusively on Mr. Obama, whose economic policies he called “a bust.”

In a sign that Mr. Obama, too, is hastening toward a general election matchup with Mr. Romney, his re-election campaign released an advertisement on Monday accusing Mr. Romney of supporting tax breaks for big oil companies.

On Tuesday, during a lunch-hour stop at Cousins Subs in Waukesha, Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama was passing the buck on high fuel prices. “So the president put an ad out yesterday, talking about gasoline prices and how high they are,” he said. “And guess who he blamed? Me! Maybe after I’m president I can take responsibility for things I might have done wrong. But this president doesn’t want to take responsibility for his mistakes.”

Ashley Parker contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 3, 2012

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ron Paul had not campaigned in Wisconsin. He held his first campaign event in the state at the University of Wisconsin last Thursday. 

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