Though deeply divided, Wisconsin is still a blue state

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Yes, Romney did pick Wisconsin boy Paul Ryan of Janesville as his running mate. This selection hasn’t changed the nature of the game all that much in Wisconsin. Sure, a few more votes might end up in the Republican column, but probably not enough to put the state in play. While winning Wisconsin might be critical for Romney, it would simply be nice for Obama.

While there is considerable division in state-level politics, in presidential politics, Wisconsin is blue. Wisconsin has voted Democratic in every presidential election from 1988 on. The state voted for Dukakis, for Pete’s sake. Not even the selection of Ryan will put this state in play. I see a great deal that suggests things will be very much the same.

That does not mean that there is nothing interesting to say about Wisconsin. Quite the contrary, the tumultuousness and divisiveness of the state’s politics provides a great deal that it worth thinking about. How is it that we can expect Obama to win in a state that has twice in less than two years given the governorship to Scott Walker, the poster child for the new right in the United States, of which Romney is a part?

In a very general sense, campaigns want to do a couple of different things: they want to make the base happy; and they want to get the voters in the middle—the moderates, the independent—to swing their vote in your direction. Often, these goals are mutually exclusive.

Giving your base something to be enthusiastic about is important, but this election seems to be getting by without enthusiasm. It doesn’t seem like anyone loves his or her candidate this time around. Nearly four years of governing in a harsh partisan environment having taken their toll on Obama and his relationship with his base. Romney is perceived as too moderate by much of his base, and just when it seems as though he is ready to allay their concerns, he commits another devastating gaffe. The respective bases might not have anywhere else to go, but that doesn’t mean they will show up on Election Day. But, again, elections are not won simply on base turnout.

In the by-now well known and infamous video of Mitt Romney talking about the votes that he says will never vote for him, he said that there are a group of voters in the middle that determine the outcome of elections. On this point, he is dead on. These in the middle are the convincibles. You get enough of them and you win the election. The problem with the convincibles is that they don’t always act in predicable ways. The same convincibles that gave us President Obama also gave us Governor Walker. They are blue in national politics and red in state politics. Unlike some states in which the result of the presidential election is a foregone conclusion (think: Utah and Vermont, to name just two), Wisconsin is deeply divided enough and has enough convincibles to make the state a swing state.

Who will win Wisconsin? Obama needs simply to close the deal, which he seems to have nearly done. Even with the selection of Ryan, it seems like Romney still needs to make the deal in the first place. If I were a betting man, I would place my money on Obama making it seven presidential elections in a row for the Democrats. But I’m not a betting man.

Anderson is a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater.


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