Obama’s lead in the polls appears razor thin, if it exists at all. A new Washington Post-ABC News survey this week shows Obama locked in a virtual dead heat nationally with Romney, as he was two weeks ago. Several polls of likely voters in Wisconsin taken after the debate showed the president with a lead of two or three percentage points, smaller than the surveys’ margins of error. The other big Wisconsin contest is the Senate race, in which former governor Tommy G. Thompson (R) is in a close battle with Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D).
In addition to Bush-Obama voters, there are also Obama-Walker voters — those who voted for Obama and then supported Republican Scott Walker in the 2010 gubernatorial contest and in a bitter recall election in June.
Although they may not follow politics closely, they do vote.
“Clearly those folks are not driven by ideology, clearly they’re not driven by party,” said Marquette University’s Franklin.
“They do their civic duty,” he said. “And the last bit is: ‘Wisconsin nice.’ They’re just nice people.”
The Go-Figure State
Any exploration of the mind of the American voter is likely to be a perilous and disorienting enterprise. People can say all sorts of strange things, contradict themselves, spout conspiracy theories, echo manufactured talking points. But they also can dispense common sense and be good judges of character.
In Wisconsin, voters aren’t registered by party. Most self-identify in surveys as Democrat or Republican or say they lean one way or the other, but a chunk of the electorate is truly nonaligned. Many people will declare in an interview that they don’t vote for the party but for the person. They’ll say they just want whoever can do the best job. It’s the opposite of a battle cry — more like a plea for help.
Historically it has been a hard state to peg. Its nickname might well be the Go-Figure State. It has produced conservative icons such as Joseph McCarthy and, lately, Walker and Paul Ryan — and for that matter, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who has an authentically unspellable Wisconsin name. But it also is the birthplace of many progressive, worker-friendly ideas, producing such prominent liberals as William Proxmire and Russell Feingold.
Not long ago, Milwaukee had a string of socialist mayors. Among the most iconic Wisconsinites was the crusading Robert La Follette, a governor and senator who, as the nominee of the Progressive Party, won 17 percent of the national vote in the 1924 presidential election.
The political geography is quirky: Wisconsin doesn’t have a typical urban-rural divide in voting patterns. In many states, Republicans win all the counties that have a lot of cows, to put it simply. Democrats have owned the cities. Obama in 2008 did, indeed, rack up huge majorities in Milwaukee, the largest city, and Madison, the capital and home of the state’s flagship university. But he also won many of the rural counties, that picturesque territory with dairy farms and Holsteins and shops selling cheese curds that squeak when you chew them.