By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — It sounds like something from A&E’s “Intervention.”
Don’t look for James Carville and David Plouffe to lead a surprise get-together with an unsuspecting Barack Obama at George Clooney’s mansion. You won’t see Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid confronting the head Democrat, admonishing him to take a good look at himself in the mirror, that he is not just hurting himself, he’s hurting all of those little Badger Democrats out there, too.
No, Team Romney is handling this intervention, firmly asserting that Obama knows he’s got a problem holding Wisconsin, a suddenly turned swing state that Obama won by 14 points in 2008. With 42 shopping days left until the election, the Romney campaign is trying to make that point at every turn.
They point to Obama’s trip to Milwaukee over the weekend, the president’s first Wisconsin stop since February, as a sign of desperation for a candidate who sees a safe state slipping away.
“The Obama campaign realizes they have a problem, and now they are increasing their media ad buys here and sending out the vice president and First Lady to campaign,” said Ben Sparks, spokesman for Romney’s Wisconsin campaign. “The momentum is only going in our direction.”
But the poll numbers appear to be heading in the president’s direction.
The latest Marquette Law School poll released last week showed Obama up by 14 percentage points over Romney, and a Swing State Poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University, the New York Times and CBS News showed Obama with a six-point lead in Wisconsin, 51-45. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll puts Obama up by five points among likely votes in Wisconsin, and eight points among the wider sample of registered voters.
Nonsense, the Romney campaign says.
They call the Marquette poll an “outlier,” despite the fact that the poll hit the state’s bitter gubernatorial recall election on the head — a seven-percentage-point win for Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Sparks said seven of the last 11 polls have Romney within the margin of error, and the Republican candidate gaining ground among independents. Mine down a little bit, and you see Romney outperforming Obama in areas such as handling the economy (the challenger leads the incumbent 46 percent to 45 percent in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll), Sparks said.
There are bigger numbers underscoring Obama’s “Wisconsin Problem,” the Romney campaign asserts.
“Our base is more enthused than theirs,” Sparks contends. “There is a significant enthusiasm gap in the Obama campaign, the same that existed during the recall and in 2010.”
Sparks pointed to tens of thousands of “low-propensity” voters who came out to vote for Obama in 2008. Democrats targeted Madison and Milwaukee metropolitan areas for the same voters in 2010 and this past summer, but couldn’t get them back to the polls, Sparks noted.
“Getting somebody to sign a petition on the side of the road is different from getting someone motivated to vote,” he said. More than 900,000 people signed petition to recall Walker.
A Romney campaign memo boasts of a surge in grassroots support in Wisconsin compared to 2008, when Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, topped the GOP ticket. Since launching in July, the campaign has made five times the number of phone calls and 72 times the number of door knocks as it did in 2008, the memo says.
“Next week, we are poised to make our one millionth voter contact in support of the Romney-(Paul) Ryan ticket,” the memo states.
So why wasn’t the same support there for McCain-Palin?
More money in Romney’s campaign coffers for one, and, Sparks said, Wisconsin Republicans have been campaigning and fighting off recall drives since 2009.
Wisconsin’s recall primary seemed to awaken a sleeping giant, with Walker picking up 627,000 votes — 38,000 less than the four contestants vying for the Democratic Party nomination — in a mostly meaningless run up to the June 5 general recall election. Those Walker supporters didn’t go away, and they are committed to voting for Romney, Sparks said.
The polls, again, say otherwise, noting at least some of the votes going to Walker in the recall election could go to Obama in November.
“Voting for one person or party at the state level doesn’t guarantee support at the national level, because the issues are different,” said Scott Furlong, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. “There’s something to be said about having that base there, but that’s not coming through in the polling.”
The Obama for America Campaign did not return an email request for comment. Neither did a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign in Wisconsin.
Vicki Burke, chairwoman for the La Crosse County Democratic Party, said she doesn’t see any momentum slowdown for Democrats in her area — not on the phone banks or on the sidewalks.
“Quite the opposite,” she said. “We’ve had a constant stream of people coming into the office getting yard signs for all of the candidates.” The La Crosse region includes some contested state Legislature races, including the Senate seat held by La Crosse Democrat Jennifer Shilling, up for election a little more than a year after beating the Republican incumbent in a Senate recall race.
Donald McFarland is a campaign consultant in Minnesota, and one of the principles behind Democracy Partners, a group of strategists that assist liberal campaigns. He said he is not working on the Obama campaign in Minnesota.
While McFarland wouldn’t comment on the Romney’s assertion that Obama is struggling in Wisconsin, he did say he sees no sign of an enthusiasm gap among Democrats.
“I see people working hard on their ground game,” he said. “From an outsider’s perspective, it sure looks like folks are working hard to make sure Obama wins.”
But Obama could have a problem if he takes Wisconsin for granted, said Charles Jacobs, political science professor at St. Norbert College in De Pere.
Republicans assert Obama’s 220-day absence from the Badger State and his failure to support Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat’s candidate in the recall election, has cost him support.
Jacobs said the president and his challenger ignore any of the swing states at their own political peril. The hazards are more pronounced for Romney, the professor said.
“(Is the Obama campaign) terrified they are going to lose Wisconsin? They may very well be,” Jacobs said. “The math to victory is easier right now than it is for Romney. At this point Romney needs Wisconsin. Almost all winning scenarios go through Wisconsin for Romney.”
Contact Kittle at email@example.com