BAYHAM: On The Tundra In Wisconsin

Wisconsin has been a battle-ground state in presidential elections since Ralph Nader’s Green Party bid almost threw the state’s electoral votes to the GOP in 2000.

After coming close then, the Republican Party dumped substantial resources in Wisconsin in 2004 but without vote siphoning from the consumer affairs advocate, the Democrats managed to pull off another win in the highly competitive state.

Mitt Romney upped the political ante in his play for the state’s electoral votes when he tapped Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. Ryan was considered a double threat, combining national appeal and strong local support as he has received at least 60% of his district’s vote in re-election bids, even when Barack Obama carried it in 2008.

Either by design or coincidence, President Obama has worked in a Wisconsin element into his own campaign: his reelection slogan, Forward, is the motto of the Badger State.

The nomination of former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson, who has enjoyed success as a statewide candidate, for an open US Senate seat should have further increased the ticket’s chances in November, yet Romney-Ryan and Thompson are trailing their Democratic opponents in polls.

The Democrats’ advantage is counterintuitive when considering that Romney-Paul-Thompson have directly inherited the same political apparatus that defeated the union-driven recall of Republican governor Scott Walker only a few months ago.

In fact the office in Milwaukee being used by the Romney Victory operation still has pro-Walker posters from the recall campaign on its walls.

Madison college activists excepted, Wisconsin voters tend not to be very expressive in their politics. In three days there I could count on both hands the number of yard signs for presidential candidates I saw and came across about as few bumper stickers.

The high-octane retail politicking one would typically see outside Tiger Stadium during a gubernatorial election year was nowhere to be found around Lambeau Field on game day. Despite that tens of thousands of people were milling about a relatively compact area, there were no rallies nor was there anyone handing out campaign lapel stickers.

Apparently Wisconsin residents where their Packer Green and Gold and Badger red Ws on their sleeves, not their politics.

The small town of Lake Mills, in Jefferson County, is in the middle of the battleground.

Twelve years ago Jefferson County, which is on the Milwaukee-Madison corridor, voted for George W. Bush by a modest margin (53%) and voted for his re-election by a slightly higher majority in 2004 (56%). However, Jefferson County by less than a percent (352 votes) went for Obama in 2008.

On the corner of a busy commercial intersection, a small group of retirees gather, as they do every day at noon, to wave their Romney placards for an hour to show their support for the GOP nominee for president. The signs differ from the official logo and were made independent of the Romney campaign by a local
supporter after being unable to procure yard signs even in that swing state (!).

Dennis, accompanied by his chocolate lab Chili- who is sporting a small homemade Romney sandwich board sign across her back, believes Wisconsin will finally go Republican in 2012 due to outrage over the 16 trillion dollar national debt and the poor state of the economy.

Just down the street from the band of volunteers is a house with a hand-painted sign on the lawn that reads “Re-elect the President Obama Cares”. In a state with a rich history of progressivism and social consciousness, emphasizing compassion will go far politically.

Wisconsin is wired differently from any other state, perhaps in part to its Scandinavian heritage.

Outside of Lambeau Field, mixed in with the ocean of tailgaters, were numerous charities collecting donations for the less fortunate. Near the stadium’s entrance gates were booths where attendees could receive $15 flu shots.

A mile away a Green Bay Catholic Church’s request for household goods for folks in tough times was being met with overflowing generosity from parishioners.

Sharing seems to be as ingrained in Wisconsin as being nice.

The culture of Wisconsin is favorable to Obama, though the economy isn’t.

Despite the massive political investment he has made there, Romney must overcome the voters’ inclination to vote for Obama.

The former Bain Captial executive’s chances of carrying Wisconsin rest on his ability to make a strong case that his economic plan will benefit the 47% as well as the 53%.

And he must do so nicely.

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