Wisconsin is, once again, the center of the political universe.
Following the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as Mitt Romney’s running mate and an ensuing bump in Wisconsin polling — not to mention lingering satisfaction over Gov. Scott Walker’s historic recall win — Republicans are licking their chops at the prospect of turning Wisconsin red.
Republicans insisted Wisconsin was within reach in the immediate aftermath of Walker’s historic win — but now there is at least some scant evidence to bolster their claim. Still, the Obama campaign says it is still keeping its powder dry for the moment, perhaps hoping that the GOP swing in the Wisconsin numbers will dissipate as it did in the weeks after Walker’s big win.
Republicans are being open about their great expectations for Wisconsin. At a Ryan campaign in Virginia Friday, Gov. Bob McDonnell shouted out the Badger State as an opportunity for Republicans during his intro of Ryan.
McDonnell’s claim came on the heels of an RNC announcement of a new “Women for Mitt” program launching statewide in Wisconsin, boosting the campaign’s presence there. Earlier this week, the RNC — led by Wisconsinite Chairman Reince Priebus — launched two new Wisconsin ads that began running Wednesday. The TV ads are the same ones the RNC is running in other swing states. You can see them here and here.
The GOP was similarly riled by Wisconsin in the days surrounding the June 5 recall. Back then polls, the media and even the Obama campaign listed the Badger State among the swing states this fall. Team Obama sent a web video to supporters on the eve of the recall election listing the state as a toss-up along with Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia.
But the polls quickly swung back, and the state was soon considered safely back in Obama’s column. That could be changing again now that Ryan’s on the Romney ticket.
There have only been two polls of Wisconsin since Ryan was chosen, one live-caller survey commissioned by CNN that showed the Obama-Biden ticket up 4 points, and another automated snap poll from Republican-leaning firm Rasmussen that showed the Republican ticket up by 1 point. Before that, data showed that the state favored the Obama camp — although the race has tightened.
Ryan hasn’t turned the table yet in Wisconsin, but Republican fortunes in the state have been looking up. Walker’s approval rating, which started in the tank after he took office and challenged public-sector unions, evened out this past April and has ticked up after his recall victory.
With Walker, the Republican standard-bearer, back in positive territory and Ryan close to the top of the ticket, the GOP has two strong emissaries for its cause in the state.
“Our last four polls, since late May through the week BEFORE Ryan are +8, +6, +8, +5 so they have been a shade better than toss-up but not enough to suggest a strong Obama lead,” Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School poll, told TPM in an email. “With Ryan I expect that narrows enough to qualify as a clear toss-up, especially with added campaign effort here. So far neither campaign has run ads, a clear sign they didn’t put Wisconsin in the same category with Virginia, Ohio and Colorado over the summer.”
There are more numbers expected next week that could add clarity to the two initial post-Ryan polls. Democratic-leaning pollster Public Policy Polling said that they are already seeing a change on the ground its first day in the field:
We are seeing a very competitive Presidential race in Wisconsin…going to be interesting over next month to see if it’s a bump or lasting..— PublicPolicyPolling (@ppppolls) August 17, 2012
For now, the Obama campaign is wary of Republicans’ claims that Wisconsin is truly in play. On a conference call Thursday, Team Obama highlighted polling that they said showed Ryan has been a flop, and said they don’t expect his selection to result in much of a boost for Romney. The campaign noted that poll averages continue to favor Obama in Wisconsin. The PollTracker Average shows Obama leading in the Badger State by a margin of 48.8 percent to 46.3 percent. Other averages have the president performing slightly better against Romney.
“We expect this election to be close and polls will move up and down,” an Obama campaign aide told TPM. “We’re confident that Wisconsin voters, who are growing even more familiar with the disastrous impacts to the middle class under the Romney-Ryan plan every day, understand the economic choice in front of them and will support President Obama’s vision of an economy built from the middle out, not the top down.”
Editor’s note: Charles Franklin is a consultant for TPM’s PollTracker.