The Unlikely Swing State
Romney can win without Wisconsin, but if he does win it, he probably wins the election.


Christian Schneider

But while Walker has been campaigning for Romney-Ryan, he has also been a bit of a scold. Over the summer, he urged Romney to be more aggressive in attacking the Obama record. After the Ryan pick, Walker urged Romney to give Ryan more prominence in the campaign, believing the talented congressman was being underutilized. Soon, Ryan began to settle into a comfort zone, using his trademark PowerPoint presentations at campaign events. (A Ryan rally without budget charts is like a Journey concert without “Don’t Stop Believin’.”)

Also affecting the presidential race is a contentious U.S. Senate race in which former governor Tommy Thompson, a lock for Wisconsin’s Mount Rushmore of historic political figures, is running against Representative Tammy Baldwin, an extreme liberal from Madison. The race, believed to be extremely tight, has gotten ugly, with Thompson running ads criticizing Baldwin for voting against a resolution honoring the victims of 9/11. Baldwin has shot back, noting Thompson owned stock in companies that partnered with Iran to mine uranium in Africa. National ad-watching groups have called the Thompson–Baldwin race the most negative in the nation.

It is unclear whether Thompson is buttressing Romney’s numbers, or vice versa. But when I sat down with Thompson three weeks ago, he urged Romney to spend more time and money in the state, likely recognizing the help a rising tide could give his own campaign. In most polls, Thompson is running a couple of points ahead of Romney; a strong Romney vote will almost certainly send Thompson to the Senate.

Very few early presidential-election models had Wisconsin in play, but its ten electoral votes have become an important prize. If Romney wins Wisconsin, he can even lose Ohio’s 18 electoral votes, provided he wins Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Nevada.

That is, Romney can still win the presidency if he loses Wisconsin, but it is almost certain that if he wins Wisconsin, he will be the next president. If the state tips in Romney’s direction, it will be the sign of a larger trend — one that could also sweep in other Midwestern states, including Minnesota and Michigan, both of which appear to be closer than expected.

On October 28, 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was joined by singer Bruce Springsteen at a campaign rally down the street from the state capitol in Madison. The rally drew tens of thousands of people; Kerry ended up winning Wisconsin by only 11,384 votes.

On Monday, Obama will be joined by Springsteen in Madison, hoping to recapture some of the last-minute magic that The Boss contributed eight years ago. If the Wisconsin public sees this recycled campaign stunt as a metaphor for Obama’s lack of new ideas since he took office, he could find himself on the evening of November 6 left with nothing but boring stories of glory days.

— Christian Schneider is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.