The battle for Wisconsin hits a fever pitch over the next six days with visits from both presidential candidates and their running mates, underscoring the state's looming role in a nerve-racking electoral endgame for each side.
Vice President Biden is campaigning in Oshkosh and Kenosha today.
Republican Mitt Romney will be in West Allis Monday evening at the Wisconsin Products Pavilion at State Fair Park. Doors open at 5 p.m.
President Barack Obama will be in Green Bay Tuesday.
And Republican Paul Ryan will campaign in the state Wednesday.
"It tells you Wisconsin is in the cross hairs," said Reince Preibus, the Wisconsinite who chairs the Republican National Committee.
"It has settled into a traditional close Wisconsin race," said Robert Kraig, executive director of the liberal advocacy group, Citizen Action of Wisconsin.
It's a concentrated dose of presidential politics reminiscent of the close of the 2004 campaign, when President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards played election tag team here, making back-to-back and sometimes overlapping visits to what turned out to be the closest state in America.
This race hasn't had the sustained, months-long intensity of that contest. Obama has led in the vast majority of public polls. The presidential candidates didn't go on TV in Wisconsin until last month, making Wisconsin unique among the nine current battlegrounds in seeing less TV spending in 2012 than it saw in 2008, according to data compiled by Kantar Media CMAG, which tracks political advertising.
In a new poll of 500 likely voters in Wisconsin taken Oct. 25 by Rasmussen Reports, Obama and Romney are tied at 49%. Averaging the most recent independent surveys, Obama has enjoyed a 2- to 3-point lead. In any event, the state's 10 electoral votes figure mightily in the math for both parties.
Wisconsin is part of a potential "firewall" for Obama: if the president hangs on in Ohio, Wisconsin, and either Iowa or Nevada, he wins a second-term. For Republicans, it's one of the only places where they're playing "offense" this year, contesting a state that has voted Democratic since the 1980s. If the GOP loses Ohio, Wisconsin is a must-win.
In a column for his website titled "Wisconsin may be the new Ohio," pollster Scott Rasmussen wrote: "On election night, the first places to watch will be Virginia and Florida. If Romney wins there, watch Ohio. If the president wins Ohio, Wisconsin is likely to be the decisive battleground state of Election 2012."
Priebus said Friday that "We feel good about where we are at in the Badger state ... Our dream come true is to win Ohio and have Wisconsin take us across the finish line."
The RNC recently shifted more than $3 million to the Republican Party of Wisconsin. In an October filing with the Federal Elections Commission, it was the RNC's biggest transfer to any state party.
Kraig, of Citizen Action, pointed to public polls suggesting a small but ongoing Obama advantage, and said liberals and Democrats will be motivated to turn out.
"Motivation seems high to me. 2008 was spectacular. 2008 may be an unattainable goal, but it's very high. I think it's higher than '04," said Kraig, referring to a contest that was decided by less than half a percentage point and saw sky-high turnout on both sides.
State GOP vice-chair Brian Schimming portrayed the Obama and Biden visits as a sign of how tenuous Democrats' hold is on Wisconsin.
"They're coming here for a reason," Schimming said of Obama and Biden. "We've got a great ground game here. It's really, really good, the best I've seen ... The intensity you need at the time that you need it, we're bringing it. They see it. They're reacting to polling right now in the states. That's why they move where they are. They're coming here because they're slipping."
Asked if the Obama visit is indeed a sign that Democrats are worried about the state, Wisconsin Democratic chair Mike Tate said, "It's a sign that we're campaigning in the state, which is something Mitt Romney is going to start trying to do."
Romney will be making his first campaign visit to Wisconsin since August. This will be Obama's third visit since late September.
"I think that the President is ahead. I think that we've got a superior ground game ... the President's been here a lot more, the Vice President has been here a lot more, the First Lady has been here a lot more ... if this is (Republicans') 'all-out effort' (to win Wisconsin) I'm not very worried. We haven't seen Mitt Romney here for well over a month and a half. We've seen the President twice in that time and he's coming back Tuesday."
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