“We’re ground zero, yet again,” Gov. Scott Walker (R) told Republican volunteers in the afternoon at a “victory center” run by Mitt Romney’s campaign in the Green Bay suburb of Allouez. “We can shock the world again.”
“I need you, Wisconsin,” President Obama said during a rally that morning at the Green Bay airport. “We’ve come too far to turn back now.”
Wisconsin is the Ohio that you may not know about. Just days before the election, this state is being blanketed by TV ads and hopscotched by candidates, as Romney tries to deny Obama a vital piece of the Democrat’s electoral strategy.
It’s an odd role for this traditionally blue state, where in 2008 Obama won by a stunning 14 points. But since then, the state has lurched to the right, electing the conservative Walker in 2010, then defeating an effort to recall him this summer.
Now, just as Wisconsin symbolized the euphoric roll of Obama’s first presidential campaign, it has come to symbolize the grim, grinding numbers game of his second. To win in Wisconsin, Obama’s task is to make sure he only loses most of his landslide, and not quite all of it.
To that end, he will be back Saturday. And Monday.
Understanding the last-minute fight for Wisconsin requires understanding that — this year — there are swing states, and then there are swing states. In all, between eight and 11 states may be toss-ups, within reach for Romney and Obama.
But Obama needs to win only three of them to take the presidency.
Two of these crucial three are old-time electoral battlegrounds: Nevada and Ohio. The other is Wisconsin — a theoretical swing state, which hasn’t actually swung since 1988. Democratic candidates have won it ever since, and Obama won it bigger than any Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
Right now, most state polls show Obama ahead in Wisconsin. But Romney’s camp says it can win. In a call with reporters Wednesday, Romney political director Rich Beeson listed Wisconsin among the states where Obama’s swing-state advantage was crumbling.
“Right now,” Beeson said, “their firewall is burning.”
Now both campaigns have settled on the same two-step strategy. To win the election, you need Wisconsin. And to win Wisconsin, you need the Green Bay region — specifically, a swath of three fickle counties that are the battleground of the battleground.
In these places, state political hands say, a history of labor unions pulls voters toward the Democrats. But Catholic social values and gun ownership pull them toward the GOP.
On Wednesday, Romney running mate Rep. Paul Ryan — a native of Janesville, in another part of the state — was in Green Bay. And he was laying on the Wisconsin like sweet creamery butter.
Ryan took the stage in a University of Wisconsin Badgers jacket. In the first minute of his speech, he mentioned the Badgers, the rutting of local deer and the cover of hunter’s-camouflage-and-blaze-orange he kept on his iPhone. In the second minute, Ryan mentioned the only Wisconsin icons he’d left out in the first: the Green Bay Packers and cheese.