MILWAUKEE — President Obama swooped into Wisconsin on Saturday for the first time since native son Rep. Paul Ryan joined the Republican presidential ticket, raising money and rallying supporters as the president’s campaign sought to maintain enthusiasm for him in this battleground state.
The president’s last trip here was Feb. 15, when he visited a Master Lock facility to highlight his proposals to give tax breaks to companies that bring jobs back from overseas. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney selected Ryan in July as his running mate, and Democrats are concerned that the congressman has put into play a state that Obama won by 14 points in 2008.
Obama did not mention Ryan during his remarks at a fundraiser or at an outdoor rally later in the afternoon. But he delivered another dig at Romney, who had been captured on a secretly recorded video released last week dismissing “47 percent” of Americans as being too reliant on government aid and not paying income taxes.
“I’ve always said change takes more than one term, one president, one party,” Obama told the crowd at the fundraiser at the Milwaukee Theatre. “It doesn’t happen if you write off half the nation before you take office. It happens when you include everybody. . . . Everybody gets involved.”
Polls show the president leading Romney among likely voters. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll last week showed the president ahead of Romney in Wisconsin by five points.
Republicans ridiculed the president Saturday for suddenly returning to the state. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Romney’s campaign had purchased digital billboard advertisements in the city that read: “President Obama, in the 220 days you’ve been gone: Our national debt has increased $617 billion. 23 million Americans are struggling for work. Wisconsin can do better.”
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, who had driven to Milwaukee from the campaign’s Chicago headquarters, said that he expects national polls to remain close until Election Day. But he added that the battleground states were more important and that Obama holds an edge there.
“What I care about is Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, etc.,” Messina said. “ . . . In those states, I feel our pathways to victory are there. There are two different campaigns: one in the battlegrounds and one everywhere else. That’s why the national polls aren’t relevant.”
But Messina acknowledged that the Republican organization in Wisconsin was strong and had helped Gov. Scott Walker (R) win his recall election last spring after unions tried to oust him in the wake of the governor’s move to end collective-bargaining rights.
Wisconsin “is one where ... because of the recall election, they test-drove their car,” Messina said. “It would make sense they are strong here, as are we.”
The president attended two fundraisers at the Milwaukee Theatre, then addressed supporters at an outdoor rally at the Henry Maier Festival, next to Lake Michigan. He also stopped at a sausage deli, ordering a kielbasa and Italian sausage, injecting some local flavor into the trip.
Inside the deli, Obama ran into some customers who were from Ohio, one of them wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt. Not wanting to pass up a chance to charm another swing-state voter, the president helped them spell out O-H-I-O with their arms, holding his above his head in the shape of an H.