By Cameron Joseph - 10/17/12 09:00 AM EDT
MILWAUKEE — Mitt Romney’s campaign is counting on Paul RyanPaul RyanThe beginning of the end for Ted Cruz Obama mocks GOP, media and himself in final WHCA dinner address Obama jabs at GOP: Is this dinner too tacky for the Donald? MORE to deliver Wisconsin, a state both sides see as an important safety net in their Electoral College calculations.
For President Obama, a win there — polls show him up by a few points — plus a victory in Ohio essentially hands him a second term.
On the other hand, if Romney can win Wisconsin, he has a path to victory even without Ohio. No Republican has won the presidency without winning the Buckeye State.
The last Republican to win Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes was Ronald Reagan in 1984.
But Team Romney has an advantage they think could put them over the top: Ryan.
Romney officials say the former Massachusetts governor will return soon, but some argue Ryan’s roots in the state make him more effective at wooing its many blue-collar voters.
Meanwhile, Team Obama has demonstrated the importance of the state with a series of high-profile stops. Vice President Biden was in La Crosse last Friday, the day after his debate, and first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaMalia Obama to attend Harvard after gap year Pre-WHCD speakeasy bash draws athletes, Hollywood bigwigs and Washington insiders The Hill kicks off WHCD festivities with star-studded bash MORE is headed there this Friday, as is former President Clinton. Obama himself spent the day after his first debate in Wisconsin.
But for senior Republicans like Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, the fight in their home state is personal.
“There’d be nothing sweeter than going over 270 [electoral votes] with the Badger State,” Priebus told The Hill. “We want to make it easy on ourselves and win Ohio, but certainly Wisconsin is in play and the trend lines are moving in our direction.”
Until Ryan was selected as Romney’s running mate, it was unclear whether Wisconsin was in play at all. Neither campaign targeted it early with ads, partly to give voters a break after the emotional June recall election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).
But Ryan’s pick helped the Republican faithful shake off their post-recall hangover, a number of GOP activists in the state told The Hill: Those worn out from the hard-fought recall race and those who had been less than enthusiastic about Romney rallied to the ticket once Ryan was added.
Romney officials, while refusing to run down the nominee’s appeal to blue-collar workers, tacitly admitted Ryan had better retail campaign skills, especially in his home state.
“He’s able to put a local face for the governor’s plan to create jobs and help the middle class throughout the country,” one national Romney campaign official said of Ryan.
“Ryan is a hometown hero and a reformer,” another Wisconsin-based Romney staffer said. “There was recall fatigue; it took a bit for us to transition over. We got a campaign staff here later than in other states, but when he was picked it was a shot in the arm.”
Democrats insist they’re fired up as well, but a number of Obama volunteers told The Hill the enthusiasm for Obama’s reelection campaign didn’t come anywhere close to the energy surrounding his first victory — or the Walker recall.
Democratic campaign staffers in the state argued that in their polls Ryan’s approval rating is 50 percent — the same as his disapproval rating. But even they admitted that Ryan was personally likable and hard to demonize, unlike Walker, who generates intense emotions from both sides of the aisle.
Ryan showed off his home-state appeal at a Monday rally in Waukesha, a town just outside of Milwaukee that is at the center of the state’s Republican revival.
He cited Wisconsin’s two great traditions, deer hunting and the Green Bay Packers, in a speech tailored heavily to local residents.
“To go down in Texas against a 5-0 team on the road and have that kind of performance, it reminds me of what it’s going to look like on November the 6th,” Ryan said in reference to Green Bay’s upset win over the Houston Texans on Sunday night. The line drew a roar from a crowd heavily decked out in Packer green and gold that was matched only by the cheer as he took the stage.
A few minutes later, Ryan held up his camouflage and blaze-orange-colored phone case as a reminder to himself that in a few weeks he’ll be back to take his daughter out for Wisconsin’s official start to the deer-hunting season. At the end of the event, Ryan smoothly handled questions from some blue-collar voters, including one who proudly proclaimed himself a union electrician. While Waukesha is fairly well-off, many of the surrounding areas are filled with blue-collar swing voters — as are population hubs in the northeast and west of the state.
Waukesha falls on the edge of his congressional district, where Ryan has routinely run ahead of the rest of the GOP ticket. In 2008, while Obama was carrying the district with 51 percent of the vote, Ryan was skating to reelection with 64 percent.
And if the GOP ticket can come anywhere close to that number in Ryan’s district, Wisconsin will land in Romney’s column on Election Night.