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Presidential campaigns beat a path through battleground Wisconsin

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

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Updated: December 3, 2012 6:51AM



WEST ALLIS, Wis. — Joe Biden. Paul Ryan. Bill Clinton. Mitt Romney. Barack Obama.

And don’t forget Katy Perry and Bruce Springsteen.

Over just a handful of days, every major player in the presidential race — along with some rock star electricity — has or will come through Wisconsin in the critical homestretch before Tuesday’s election.

It’s a sharp change for a state that Democratic presidential candidates have carried since 1984.

As Election Day nears, it’s clear both presidential candidates are counting on Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes to play a major part in their victory equations.

This whole “batteground” status is new.

“When a candidate came through Wisconsin for the day it used to dominate media coverage, everything,” said Brian Schimming, first vice chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “Now it’s just another day.”

Clinton was in Waukesha on Thursday. Romney will be in West Allis on Friday. Obama was in Green Bay on Thursday and plans to hold a rally in Milwaukee on Saturday. The president will return on Monday, kicking off a three-state flyaround with Springsteen in Madison.

The polls explain the state’s sudden allure.

Obama and Romney were in a dead heat in the state with 49 percent apiece in the latest automated Rasmussen poll. The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Obama holding a slight lead in the state.

But the GOP isn’t conceding anything in the state where the Republican Party was founded 158 years ago.

Earlier this week, in the Republican stronghold of Waukesha County, Schimming wrapped up a statewide bus trip to rally campaign offices across the state.

He said he saw an energy unmatched by anything he’s experienced in the last 20 years of politics in Wisconsin.

“We’re so jacked up in this state right now,” Schimming said of Republicans. “It’s the best ground game I’ve seen.”

While Wisconsin has always been a competitive state, Schimming said this election season has elevated the competition to a whole new level.

“We’re unique because not only the recalls but because we have a native son on the ballot.”

Vice presidential hopeful Ryan is from Janesville, Wis.

Plus, the rancor that preceded last spring’s gubernatorial recall election rallied the troops on both sides — and rallied them early. That allowed both parties to identify sympathizers, donors and volunteers months before they typically would have for a presidential fight.

Schimming contends that since Republicans won the recall battle — Scott Walker remained in office, despite pushing through controversial anti-union legislation — the GOP is more energized and more organized than ever before.

Democrats though, say the same is true for them.

“We’ve been organizing on the ground for well over a year,” said Mike Tate, state chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

“I’ll tell you we are running the absolute largest get-out-the-vote campaign that we ever had.”

Wisconsin has sized up to be one of the most critical states in the closing days before the Nov. 6 election. Though the intensity has noticeably ramped up in the last week. Romney’s Friday visit will be his first since August.

While traveling through Green Bay on Thursday, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the campaign never took the Badger State for granted.

“We always knew this state would be harder than it was for us in 2008,” she said of the sizable win during Obama’s first run. “Obviously, when Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, he’s a native son. He’s basically moved into the state and put a great deal of time in there. We’ve had an organization on the ground there since 2008, and we think that continues to be helpful and is one of the reasons we’re going to win Wisconsin on Tuesday.”

“We certainly don’t look back and have any regrets.”

While local Democrats and Republicans each cite the recall as a catalyst for spurring their respective parties to the polls, Tate insists Republicans have a “math problem.”

There’s simply more eligible Democratic voters, he says. If the election were held on recall day, numbers then still showed Obama winning, according to Tate.

“More people will be coming out on Nov. 6 [and that] is a very bad sign for Gov. Romney,” he said.

Wisconsin GOP leaders attribute some of the excitement within their base to Ryan’s vice presidential candidacy, saying he’s “personally popular” throughout the state.

Ryan’s other challenger on Tuesday — Rob Zerban, a Democrat seeking Ryan’s seat in Congress — begs to differ.

“This is the first time he’s run for re-election where he’s had to answer for this budget,” Zerban said, referring to the Ryan budget adopted by Republicans. In Wisconsin, Ryan is allowed to be on the ballot for both races.

“The politics of the recall were very unusual,” Zerban said. “There were Democrats who were against it. I think you’re going to see a very different result this November.”

Tate also said Romney hasn’t visited Wisconsin in more than two months. Events earlier this week for both Obama and Romney were canceled due to Hurricane Sandy.

“It’s a curious way to try to win the state by not campaigning there,” Tate said of Romney. “He hasn’t been here since August. Now they’re trying to say Wisconsin is in play.”

On a wind-whipped afternoon earlier this week in West Allis, a swing suburb outside of Milwaukee, two women showed up outside the hall where Romney was to speak later that night. They were there for a Democratic rally that was to be held in the run-up to the GOP event.

They didn’t get word that both rallies were canceled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy starting to build destructive momentum out East.

Bernadette Davel said she immersed herself in campaign efforts for the Democrats this election including knocking on doors and driving people to the polls.

“The state has been so divided since Gov. Walker took office,” Davel said. “It’s torn families apart. There are people who actually would not talk to people in their family. It was that acrimonious.”

Helen Dahms, an English teacher in Milwaukee, said one of her students wrote in a political essay of this year’s election in Wisconsin: “It’s going to cause a lot of icy stares over the Thanksgiving dinner table in my family.” She blamed the Tea Partyers for splitting the state, saying they came out not compromising on anything. “They put the line in the stand.”

Four years ago, Obama won Wisconsin by 14 percentage points. Earlier presidential contests were much more close, however — including both of George W. Bush’s bids. Schilling said Bush lost by 5,000 votes statewide one year and about 12,000 another.

Neither side is taking anything for granted, with Democrats and Republicans visiting their strongholds to ensure that their commited voters turn out.

“They ask why we’re preaching to the choir,” Schimming said. “It’s because we need them to sing.”



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