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In Wisconsin, It's Game On

In Wisconsin, It's Game On

By Tom Bevan - October 27, 2012


KENOSHA, Wis. -- Is Wisconsin the new Ohio? It's beginning to feel that way. As the presidential race hurtles toward a dramatic conclusion, both campaigns are suddenly locked in an intense battle to win the Badger State and its 10 Electoral College votes. Vice President Joe Biden stormed through the state on Friday, beginning with a stop in Oshkosh and finishing with an afternoon rally before some 1,500 raucous supporters in Kenosha.

“Folks, we need you” Biden exhorted the crowd at the end of his 30-minute speech. “Together we can win Wisconsin, and when we win Wisconsin, we will win this election!”

A new poll from Rasmussen Reports underscored just how close the contest has become here: President Obama and Mitt Romney were tied at 49 percent each in the poll of likely voters, conducted Thursday. Overall, Obama leads by just 2.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics Average in Wisconsin, down from 6.6 percent two weeks ago.

Obama’s campaign has moved quickly over the last week to try to shore up support in a state the president won overwhelmingly four years ago. In addition to the vice president's visits Friday, the campaign announced that the president himself will make a campaign stop next week in Green Bay.

In another sign of Democrats’ concern over the tightening race in Wisconsin, earlier this week Priorities USA, the super PAC supporting the Obama campaign, bought advertising time in five media markets for the final week of the campaign.

The Romney camp has also mobilized more resources to the state, apparently sensing a shift in momentum. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio stumped for Romney on Thursday in the heavily Republican area of Waukesha, just west of Milwaukee. RNC Chairman and Wisconsin native Reince Priebus barnstormed the state earlier in the week, and Romney is set to hold a “victory rally” in the Milwaukee area on Monday night.

Along with Ohio and Iowa, Wisconsin represents what is being termed Obama’s “Midwest Firewall.” Ohio remains the focal point, thanks to the electoral math; whichever candidate wins the Buckeye State and its 18 electoral votes has a much easier route to reach the magic number of 270.

But with Wisconsin (and Iowa) very much in play, the Romney campaign senses an opportunity to break through Obama’s firewall, and with the state’s 10 electoral votes in its column the Romney brain trust can suddenly see a potential path to the White House despite losing Ohio – something that would be unprecedented for a Republican presidential candidate.

Under normal circumstances, the idea that a GOP nominee could lose a more traditionally Republican-leaning state like Ohio but win in historically less favorable territory like Wisconsin and Iowa -- states Obama carried in 2008 by 14 and 9.5 percentage points, respectively -- would appear to be a long shot.

But this year is far from normal. Despite having suffered a decline of roughly four points or more in several other swing states since the first debate in early October, Obama’s lead has slipped less than half of that amount in Ohio. He appears to be “defying gravity” there -- in the words of NBC News’ Chuck Todd -- thanks in part to his stance on the auto bailout, heavy ad spending, an intense early voting effort, and a local economy performing better than the national average.

In Wisconsin, however, it appears the laws of physics still apply. Obama has lost 5.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics Average in Wisconsin since October 3, the day of the first presidential debate. And the Romney campaign has two additional reasons to believe it can keep the president earthbound there.

The first is the choice of Paul Ryan, who represents the state’s 1st Congressional District in the southeastern part of the state and hails from Janesville. Ryan’s status as favorite son, and his ability to appeal to independent voters in the state, is suddenly more important than ever.

Second, Republicans believe the political machine they’ve built statewide over the past few years, largely to battle the effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker, will make the difference for Romney on Election Day. That machine, which the Republicans test-drove back on June 5, performed exceedingly well: Walker turned out 1.3 million voters in the recall, more than 205,000 more than he did in his 2010 victory.

Early voting started this week in Wisconsin, and Republicans say they got off to a good start.

“Republican strongholds like Waukesha and Washington counties over-performed 2008, while Democratic strongholds like Dane County under-performed,” said Rick Wiley, political director for the Republican National Committee and former executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

But given the overwhelming size of Obama’s victory in Wisconsin four years ago, Republicans could out-perform 2008 by a significant amount but still come up on the losing end, especially if Democrats are able to avoid a substantial drop-off in enthusiasm.

That is exactly what Joe Biden hoped to prevent with his visit to Kenosha.

“Folks in Wisconsin know, as well as anybody in the nation, there is no quit in America,” an animated Biden urged the crowd. “In America, people are determined to bring this country back, they’re determined not to go back, and where I come from there’s only one direction -- forward!” 

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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