By M.D. Kittle Wisconsin Reporter
Obama’s march to an Electoral College win passed through the battleground Badger State in a relative instant, with the major networks quickly calling victory for Obama in Wisconsin shortly after the polls closed.
In a race for a state that seemed well within reach for Republican presidential contender Romney and native son running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville a couple of weeks ago, Wisconsin moved more into the Obama column in the final days of the contest. By Election Day, Real Clear Politics had Obama up by more than 4 percentage points.
Obama beat Romney in Wisconsin by nearly 7 percentage points, 52.8 to 46.1– a clear win but significantly thinner than the 14-point margin by which Obama beat U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, in 2008.
Romney, whose path to an Electoral College victory disappeared when Ohio slipped from his grasp, offered a short and bittersweet acceptance speech to dejected fellow Republicans. And he thanked his running mate, who arguably gave Romney a better chance in Wisconsin, for everything he did for the campaign.
“Paul and I have left everything on the field. We have given all to this campaign,” Romney said.
Obama’s win, said University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political science professor Joe Heim, came down to more effective campaigning.
Despite a sluggish economy struggling to recover, enough Americans believed in better days ahead under the current administration, Heim said.
“If you can’t produce results, the next best thing is to have people optimistic that you can,” he said. “Optimism won out here.”
While it appeared Romney had built up a growing base of independent voters, as noted in the pre-election Marquette Law School poll that pegged an Obama victory by 8 percentage points, Obama appeared to move more undecided minds in the end than Romney.
Case in point, Jean Miller of West Allis.
“In all honesty, I was undecided until my drive here,” Miller said after voting at West Allis City Hall. “I’ve seen and heard a lot of things on both sides so I was still processing it.” Miller said she went with the less negative of the political combatants. To the voter, Obama edged Romney in that contest.
But there, too, was a sense of improvement.
“I feel that there has been changes,” Miller said. “I didn’t have a job when (President George W.) Bush was in office. I have one now… It seems like things are progressing with (Obama).”
Romney narrowed the gap nationally and in Wisconsin because some voters who bought Obama’s campaign slogan of hope and change in 2008 said they haven’t seen much of either over the past four years.
“He just let me down so much that I think anybody might be better than him,” said Kate Knopik of Milwaukee. “I don’t have much trust in him anymore. I don’t believe what he’s going to say.”
Adriene and Robert Henning, married for three years, underscore the political divide in Wisconsin.
Adriene supported Obama, Robert turned out for Romney.
“I’m not a huge fan of the Obamacare,” he said. “I guess Romney, knowing he wants to reduce taxes for everybody except for the very top… that kind of appealed to me.”
Despite a hefty lead in the Electoral College, Obama topped Romney by a razor thin margin in the popular vote, with about 86 percent of the vote counted early Wednesday. It certainly was no mandate. Democrats held onto the Senate, Republicans continue to control the House.
Obama struck a conciliatory tone during his Chicago acceptance speech.
“We are an American family, we rise and fall together as one nation, as one people,” Obama said. “For the United States of America, the best is yet to come.” He acknowledged there is much work left to do.
Art Cyr, political scientist and director of the A.W. Clausen Center for World Business at Carthage College in Kenosha, said the heavy lifting will be in an ever-divided Congress and the electorate.
“The Democrats have their work cut out for them,” Cyr said “We’re in for some very hard times.”
An ideologically entrenched conservative wing sparring against a president who has been unwilling to compromise has only deepened the gridlock, Cyr said. And with the so-called fiscal cliff looming, the stakes are getting dangerously higher, he said.
Ricardo Torres contributed to this story from Milwaukee.
Contact Kittle at [email protected]