Why Obama is pulling ahead in the battleground state of Wisconsin

This summer, Mitt Romney and President Obama appeared to be neck and neck in Wisconsin. But now in polls, the president seems to be gaining independents at his opponent’s expense.

By MARK GUARINO | Staff Writer, The Christian Science Monitor

posted September 20, 2012 at 5:47 pm EDT

Chicago – The independent voter, perhaps upset by Mitt Romney’s recent remarks and his attacks on President Obama, appears to be behind a shift in polling numbers in Wisconsin that indicate Mr. Obama is pulling ahead there.

Wisconsin is among a handful of battleground states in the November presidential election. This summer, the fight appeared to be neck and neck in the state, and before the national conventions of both parties, Obama edged Mr. Romney by merely one or two percentage points.

Now, more than half of Wisconsin voters are favoring Obama, according to several new polls this week. And it’s not necessarily because Republicans are suddenly switching from red to blue, says Charles Franklin, polling director for the Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee.

The president is gaining independents at Romney’s expense, Mr. Franklin says in a video posted on the university website. A poll for the school, released Wednesday, shows Obama with a 54 to 45 percent advantage among Wisconsin independents, compared with 38 to 43 percent in August.

Overall in the state, the school’s poll finds that Obama has a 14-point lead over Romney, 54 to 40 percent. Obama’s lead against Romney was just three points in August.

“Those shifts among independents are the biggest single driving force behind those results,” he says.

One theory is that Romney’s attacks on Obama for the economic downturn may not be taking root in Wisconsin. Marquette’s polling shows 55 percent of Wisconsin voters blame the recession on President Bush, while 30 percent say it is Obama’s fault.

“The problem for the Romney campaign is to convince voters that it is all about the economy and it’s Obama’s fault. So far, the public thinks largely it’s George Bush’s fault,” Franklin says.

Results from Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., also indicate that Wisconsin independents are shying away from Romney. In a PPP poll released Thursday, 39 percent of such voters said Romney’s unscripted comments about the “47 percent” of Americans who don’t pay income taxes made them less likely to vote for him in November. By comparison, 20 percent of independent voters in the state were encouraged by the comments and considered them a positive.

Obama’s current lead among independents in Wisconsin is 52 to 43 percent, according to the poll. Overall, the poll shows Obama enjoying a seven-point lead in the state against Romney, 52 to 45 percent. Last month, the president and Romney were just a single point apart.

“Wisconsin’s looking like much less of a swing state than it did a month or even a week ago. Voters there are warming up to Obama, and Romney’s not making a terribly good impression right now,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, in a statement released Thursday.

In a third poll released this week about Wisconsin – by Quinnipiac University, CBS News, and The New York Times – Obama leads Romney by six points, 51 to 45 percent. In August, Obama’s lead was just six points.

Politico identifies Wisconsin as one of nine battleground states this election – even though voters there have not voted for a Republican president since 1984. Obama won the state by 14 points in 2008. Since then, however the state has produced many rising stars in the Republican Party: Gov. Scott Walker; Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate; and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus.

Obama’s campaign staff in Wisconsin is actively recruiting deputy field organizers from Chicago and elsewhere to give the campaign a boost during its last six weeks. And both presidential campaigns are spending significant ad dollars in the state: After the national conventions, each has now bought a second week of air time in the state, with Obama outspending Romney this week $353,000 to $205,000, CNN reports.

“Super PACs” such as Restore Our Future, which supports Romney, and Priorities USA Action, which supports Obama, are already heavily investing in television airtime in Wisconsin.

Romney is not yet scheduled to make an appearance in the state this week or next, but his wife, Ann Romney, held a rally Thursday morning at Marquette University.

Obama is scheduled to host a campaign event at Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee late Saturday afternoon. That night, he will host a fundraiser and round-table discussion at the Milwaukee Theatre, where he’ll be joined by Baseball Hall of Fame great Hank Aaron. Cost for the round table is $25,000, while a general reception costs a minimum of $250 each.

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