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The Cost of Ignoring Wisconsin

12:00 AM, Aug 20, 2012 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Thompson, by contrast, not only gives Republicans a well regarded candidate down ballot, but someone who performs well in a part of the state where Republicans often struggle. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert, Thompson barely beat newcomer Eric Hovde in the Milwaukee media market (32.2 percent to 31.3 percent), which accounted for nearly half of the total vote, and lost to him in Green Bay (37.1 percent to 26.6 percent), which was nearly a quarter. But Thompson dominated in western Wisconsin – winning media markets in Madison, LaCross-Eau Claire, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Duluth-Superior – with percentages of the vote that ranged from 42 percent to 50 percent.

And then there’s Paul Ryan. Ryan represents the state’s first congressional district, which runs across southern Wisconsin and includes parts of suburban Milwaukee. He is well known and well regarded there. Before Ryan was announced as Romney’s running mate, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that adding the native son would make “the southeastern part of the state probably more competitive.” It doesn’t happen often, but Barrett’s right.

Add to that the fact that Obama did six fundraisers for himself in surrounding states rather than come to Wisconsin for Barrett in the closing days of the recall—generating lots sniping from national and local Democrats.

There are some counter-indicators here. Jim Doyle, a liberal, special interest Democrat, won the governor’s race in 2002 and again in 2006. But in 2002, he faced a weak candidate in Scott McCallum, who had taken over as governor after Tommy Thompson moved to Washington to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration. Doyle beat a good candidate in 2006, in former congressman Mark Green, but that victory came in a year that saw every incumbent Democratic governor win reelection.

And, as Gilbert points out, “Obama has led in almost all the public polling in Wisconsin this year despite the GOP’s huge electoral gains two years ago and its galvanizing recall victory June 5.” 

And Ryan, in an interview with Gilbert before he was selected, warned Republicans not to get too optimistic. "It's clearly in the 50/50 category now with the great possibility of a (Republican) trend, but I don't think you can within 15 months identify a trend," said Ryan. "If Nov. 6 goes well in Wisconsin, that - combined with 2010 - identifies a trend. (But) it's too soon to say whether we have a trend or not. It could be the yo-yo going back and forth."

The Obama campaign seems strangely confident of a win here. In December 2011, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina taped a video message to supporters in which he laid out several electoral paths to 270 and an Obama victory in November. Each one of his scenarios assumed a win in Wisconsin. And though Messina later counted Wisconsin as competitive, the fact that Obama hasn’t been here in six months suggests that his campaign didn’t think he needed to be.

After waiting to go on air until after the June recall and the August GOP Senate primary, the Republican National Committee is now airing two ads in the state. Republican officials tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the RNC commitment to winning Wisconsin is significant—something that should surprise no one, since the chairman of the national party, Reince Priebus, is a former Wisconsin state party chair and grew up in Kenosha.   

"The RNC went all in on the recall effort this June to reelect Scott Walker and the same operation that made 5 million voter contacts and out muscled OFA is solely focused on defeating Barack Obama this fall," Priebus tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. 

And then there is the biggest intangible of all. With Paul Ryan’s Green Bay Packers as a favorite to reach the Super Bowl, and excitement about the team at a fever pitch, Wisconsin’s not a very welcome place for a Chicago Bears fan.

UPDATE

PPP reports that Romney now has a slight lead over Obama in Wisconsin:

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