Wisconsin is the near-perfect microcosm of America's political divisions. In 2000, barely more than 5,000 votes (out of more than 2.5 million) separated Bush from Al Gore. Its House delegation has four Republicans, four Democrats. A Democrat is governor, but the GOP holds more seats in the legislature. And now, no one can predict whether Bush will reverse his narrow 2000 loss or see Kerry grab the state.
The president led most polls after the two conventions, but several now show Kerry scrambling back to achieve a statistical tie. With saturation-level television and multiple candidate visits (Kerry was in the state on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and will be back on Monday), it comes down to a ground war captained by two of the most highly regarded operatives either side possesses.
Jobs are a real concern here, even though the economy is perkier than in most neighboring states. Here, as elsewhere in the upper Midwest, Bostonian Kerry has struggled to make any kind of personal connection with Democratic constituencies. He has used John Edwards, who gave him a scare in the February primary, to break the emotional ice and on Thursday brought in Bruce Springsteen to liven up a massive student rally near the University of Wisconsin in Madison. A racially polarizing mayoral race in Milwaukee left scars that have been slow to heal in the Democratic base, and no one would be surprised to see Bush roll up a big enough suburban and rural vote to put this highly valued electoral prize in his column this time.
Sen. Russell Feingold (D) was on the Republican target list for a time, but appears to have turned back the challenge from businessman Tim Michels (R).
State Sen. Gwen Moore (D) is poised to succeed retiring Rep. Gerald D. Kleczka (D). Attorney Gerald Boyle (R) is her opponent in this Milwaukee district.