As both sides flood the state with attention, a new poll by Marquette University Law School gives President Barack Obama an edge here over Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the closing days of a fiercely competitive 2012 election.
Obama leads Romney 51% to 43% in the survey of 1,243 likely voters in Wisconsin, taken last Thursday through Sunday.
In Marquette's last poll two weeks ago, the candidates were virtually tied, with Obama at 49% and Romney at 48%. Obama has led most independent polls this month, but often by slender margins, and the state is one of six or seven now commanding the candidates' overwhelming focus and effort.
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan made three campaign stops in Wisconsin Wednesday, telling voters in Racine, "As Racine County goes, so goes Wisconsin. As Wisconsin goes, so goes America."
At a stop in Ashwaubenon, Ryan said, "I really look forward to waking up Wednesday knowing we have the country back on the right track."
Obama will be in Green Bay on Thursday, and former President Bill Clinton will be in Waukesha.
Romney comes to West Allis on Friday, and Vice President Joe Biden travels to Superior and Beloit. Obama is due back in Wisconsin on Saturday for a Milwaukee visit, a fact that Republicans said underscored the competitiveness of a state Obama carried by 14 points in 2008.
The size of Obama's lead in the new Marquette survey is a departure from other recent public polls, which have found results ranging from a deadlocked race to a 6-point Obama lead. Some Democrats said they believed that while Obama is ahead, his margin is smaller than the latest MU poll shows.
But the survey does fit into a broader polling pattern in key respects. Obama has led or been tied with Romney in every public poll in Wisconsin since late August. And the president's level of support has remained fairly consistent, ranging from 48% to 51% in surveys by six different pollsters this month, including Marquette's.
Romney's level of support has varied more, ranging from 43% to 49%.
In conference calls with reporters Wednesday, both national campaigns claimed the political upper hand. The Obama campaign said the electoral map tilts decidedly in its favor. Wins by Obama in Ohio, Wisconsin and either Nevada or Iowa would give him an electoral majority, and averaging recent polls, he leads in all four.
"We have the map and they have the myths," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. "There's no Romney momentum in the battleground states. There's only smoke and mirrors."
Romney campaign officials said the fundamentals of the race favor their side.
"Take a look at the big picture. Americans are negative about the direction of the country," said Romney pollster Neil Newhouse. "Mitt has an intensity advantage (among his supporters) that will impact turnout. The race comes down to independents, and we lead among independents."
3 stops for Ryan
Ryan barnstormed the state Wednesday, with stops in Eau Claire, Ashwaubenon and Racine, before heading home to Janesville, where he planned to take his children trick-or-treating for Halloween.
"On day one, we will reverse this slide toward economic stagnation," Ryan told more than 700 cheering supporters in the headquarters of FulfilNet Inc., a marketing services firm in Ashwaubenon. "We will get this country back on track again."
Ryan said that he and Romney would get to work immediately to repeal the Affordable Care Act, get the Keystone Pipeline going, re-energize the nation's oil and gas industries, and reduce what he called costly regulations.
"Let's see it all the way through," Ryan said of Tuesday's general election.
In Racine, Ryan took aim at government assistance to the U.S. auto industry, now a key political flash point in battleground states in the upper Midwest.
"If they think this was a success story, the facts speak for themselves," Ryan said. "President Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy. Taxpayers still stand to lose $25 billion from the president's politically managed bankruptcy. These companies, Chrysler in particular, we know this story, are now choosing to expand manufacturing overseas."
"These are the facts," Ryan added. "Those facts are inconvenient for the president. But no one disputes them."
Earlier, Biden delivered a sharply worded attack against advertisements the Romney campaign was running on the 2009 auto bailout, with the implication that bailout was helping move manufacturing overseas. Executives for GM and Chrysler also took issue with the ads.
In 14 polls that Marquette has done since January, Obama and Romney have been roughly tied in three, and Obama has led in 11. But Obama's lead has fluctuated between a narrow and tenuous one and an occasional double-digit cushion. Obama's margin closed after Romney picked Ryan as his running mate, opened up again after the conventions, closed again after the first presidential debate, and has now widened a little in the new survey.
Of the likely voters surveyed in the new poll, one in 10 said they had voted early. And Obama led among those early voters, 56% to 36%.
Also in the poll, 51% approved of Obama's performance in office, and 46% disapproved.
On issues, Romney had a narrow edge on the deficit; 49% said the Republican would handle that issue better, and 47% said Obama.
But Obama had an edge on foreign policy (54% to 40%), health care (52% to 44%), the economy (49% to 47%), taxes (51% to 44%), and "social issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage" (56% to 38%).
Asked if they were better off than four years ago, 50% of likely voters said no, and 45% said yes. But Obama is winning the support of about one-fifth of those voters who said they weren't better off.
Voters were split over whether the economy has gotten better or worse in the past year. But 53% said they expected the economy to get better in the next year, compared with 9% who said it would get worse and 19% who said it would stay the same.
Gov. Scott Walker also enjoyed a positive approval rating in the new poll, with 50% saying they approved of how he is handling his job and 45% saying they disapproved.
The new poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
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