With Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan to be his vice-presidential candidate last weekend, the Republican ticket has ratcheted up the importance of Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin. The Badger State has only gone for the Republican candidate three times in the last ten elections and in each of those three (1972, 1980, 1984), the GOP won at least 44 states nationwide. Now the question is whether the Republican ticket can win in Wisconsin in a truly competitive election against a politically viable Democratic opponent.
The latest polling data posted on RealClearPolitics, which puts together an average of the major polls and has produced accurate projections on presidential races recently, shows Obama holding a 5 ½ point lead. The last poll concluded prior to the Ryan announcement, so we don’t yet have a read on how Wisconsin residents are reacting beyond the anecdotal.
There’s conflicting possibilities throughout all of this. On the one hand, Ryan represents a district formerly held by Democrat Les Aspin, who went on to serve as Secretary of Defense in the Clinton Administration. Aspin, who chaired the House Armed Services Committee for years. So in spite of the wild-eyed rhetoric currently emanating from the Left, Ryan clearly has the ability to appeal to real Democrats (as distinct from left-wing extremists masquerading as such).
On other hand…as a member of the House of Representatives, Ryan has never had to win a statewide election and moreover he’s not the candidate at the top of the ticket. How voters statewide will react to Ryan is not only anyone’s guess, but so is whether he could take a positive answer and transfer it to Mitt Romney.
Republicans are riding momentum in the state, after Governor Scott Walker not only survived a recall effort in June, but pulled away in the process and won by a bigger margin than his initial election. In the weeks leading up to the recall, even Democratic strategists admitted that the result would have impact in November, and in the final days of the campaign, President Obama sought to minimize that impact by lying low.
But on the flip side…as a resident of Wisconsin I voted in my home state’s primaries yesterday and instinctively went to pull out my driver’s license. Then I remembered Wisconsin has no photo ID law. Past elections have been replete with reports of fraud, backed up voter turnout that didn’t necessarily match registration. Curiously, the inconsistencies are around Milwaukee & Madison, the two areas of Wisconsin that go heavily Democratic.
It makes an election in this state like watching an NBA playoff game—the Democratic Party is the equivalent of the team with the established superstar and you know they’ll get the calls down the stretch. If the Republicans want to win this state, they should think in terms of winning 52 percent, to allow a little cushion.
Prior to last Saturday, I would have put Wisconsin as a “must-win” for Obama and “be-nice-to-have-but-not-absolutely-necessary” for Romney. It’s still much easier for me to envision a winning Romney coalition without the Badger State than it is an Obama win. But the Ryan selection is enough to give second thoughts.
If nothing else, the flood of advertising that’s on the way is going to make me long for the last four years when I lived in Maryland and didn’t have to endure endless political ads during the baseball playoffs. The prospect of an October spent watching the Yankees with political advertising mixed in is going to test my sanity, almost as much as the prospect of the Wealthy Left keeping its anointed political messiah in office for another four years.
Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com