Milwaukee, Wisconsin (CNN) - His campaign thought Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes were in the bag long ago, but President Barack Obama's trip here Saturday is the latest indicator that both sides believe the Badger State has become a toss-up.
The president touches down in the state Saturday for the first time in more than 200 days, set to attend two fund-raisers that will net his campaign more than $600,000 as well as an evening rally at a large amphitheater on the banks of Lake Michigan.
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“It is great to be back in Milwaukee,” Obama said to an enthusiastic crowd at the evening rally, taking the stage 30 minutes early as rain clouds moved in above. “I don’t see a lot of victims here today,” he added later, “I see a lot of hardworking Wisconsinites.”
While Obama carried the state by a commanding 14 points in 2008 and has been up in the polls here for most of the year, the Romney campaign long ago eyed Wisconsin as a potential obstacle for the president in his re-election effort. Romney officials opened more than 20 field offices throughout the state and have injected hundreds of thousands in advertising dollars in recent weeks.
Should Obama lose the state's 10 electoral votes, the Romney campaign's now-narrow path to victory suddenly gets some much-needed breathing room.
Moreover, Republican officials point out, much has changed in Wisconsin since 2008. After the manufacturing-heavy economy was hit particularly hard by the recession, Wisconsinites overwhelmingly elected conservative Scott Walker as governor in 2010.
Walker, who campaigned heavily on a plank of significant spending cuts, faced a recall election a year later largely fueled by unions and the state Democratic Party. But Obama notably kept his distance from the recall effort, wary that a Walker win would be portrayed as an Obama loss if the president injected his name into the battle.
Walker ultimately survived the recall - a result that some Wisconsin Democrats grumbled could have gone the other way if the president had flexed his muscle. Now, Republicans are hoping lingering hard feelings among local Democrats could hinder Obama's prospects in the state.
As for the Obama campaign, aides say they have long prepared for a hard fight, despite the fact that the president has not visited the state since February and has only recently gone up on the airwaves with television ads.
"We've always thought Wisconsin would be harder for us this year than it was four years ago," said Jen Psaki, a campaign spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina attributed the stronger-than-expected Romney performance here to a better ground game than that executed by the McCain campaign four years ago.
“They are stronger than McCain was in '08, no question, on the ground,” he told reporters Saturday. “But we continue to have a strategic advantage.”
Still, the president enjoyed a double-digit lead in the state for much of the year, even as the Romney campaign was forcefully ramping up its effort.
Then came the surprising pick of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate. What was once a double-digit lead dwindled to low single digits almost overnight.
While Obama maintains a small but significant lead here (CNN's average of recent polls show him with a 9-point advantage), Republicans are quick to point out his long absence from the state.
"Obama is headed to Milwaukee after ignoring the state for 220 days," said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. "Some things have changed since he's been gone, including a massive GOP ground game making over a million voter contacts."
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While the president is out campaigning in Wisconsin, Romney has to go to California to attempt to herd back the rats who are abandoning his sinking ship!
win win for Obama.
mittens soon just to be a bad memory
I'm skeptical. Both 538 and Real Clear Politics have Wisconsin clearly in Obama territory, and this article refers to a CNN poll about a 9 point lead for Obama. What's "battleground" about that?
The GOP has ignored the American people for over ten years.
I'm sick of 90% of the US voting population being disenfranchised by the "electoral college system, that means only the votes in a few "battle ground states" decide the outcome.
Being President of the whole country and running foreign policy for the Union should be by a "vote of all the people" election.
Obama will win Wisconsin, as well as most of the other swing states. He's on the side of ordinary working people unlike Romney who favors the wealthy. There is a growing awareness that Romney is just too much out of touch with the real world.
President Obama will carry Wisconsin as well as Ohio and Florida. Put a fork in Mittens because he's done.
Wisconsin people are smart and they are not going to fall for the lies and down right stupidity of the Robme team.
He is the best thing for Wisconsin I hope they all get that!
Go Prez...Go win for the country. Otherwise these GOPers will make this country a developing country pretty soon.Can't afford one day of W like policies. God save America....
Beware, fools! 65+ are waking up now. Just ask Lyin' Ryan! He had a taste of it at the AARP conference.
Who writes this swill? "A small, but significant lead of 9 percent". Huh? Have a clue about how many hundred thousand votes that is? Get a grip.
Wow CNN covering obamas campaign stop as one of your top stories! LOL why didn't you cover romneys or Ryan's campaign stop today as one of your top stories. Here's a good headline Romney talks about the economy still failing. Or CNN continues love affair with Obama even when economy continues to crash! It's weird that you want a guy to win who is failing and wants you to pay for people who don't want to work. You're excited about helping America fail!
The President can't go everywhere. I understand that. He has my vote regardless. The people of Wisconsin should be glad he's been there MORE than once.
Paul Ryan is a very bad choice for Romney.
Well it was bound to happen......
Most Omama's states are going Red and I do not like it
So if CNN isnt biased, why isnt there an article at the top of the webpage saying what Romney did today? Hmmm???? Guess CNN wants Obama to win real bad.
IF he can get Wisc along with Ohio and a few other states like Iowa, then Obama has it wrapped up. Romney has a much harder way to win.
If the socialist, corrupt Kenyan wins another 4 years- SCAMerica deserves what it gets. How dumb can its citizens be? I guess we'll find out
9 points is not a small lead. CNN is just trying to create a horse race that does not exist, to sell ads.
It will not be close race in Wisconsin. President Obama will win by at least 10 points there but he is campaigning there to ensure that his coattails will sweep off Ryan's congressional seat . Ayn Rand wannabe will become 47 percent moocher unless Romney hires him as his junior partner at Bain Capital.
how is a 9 point lead a battleground state?
romney is done and the media is looking for any angle to create a possible drama here...
there is no angle-romney is sinking every day
He did send Vice President Joe Biden though and President Obama has always expressed how he feels about unions and the right to collectively bargain. Also women's rights. His American Jobs Act , which was blocked by the Republicans would have hepled the teachers, firefighters and public employees too and Wisconsonites know it. On the other hand the Republicans are against all of these.
President Obama has created jobs for 23 straight months.
President Obama has created private sector jobs for 30 straight months. His worst months were his first three, when Republicans left him an economy losing 700,000 jobs a month.
President Obama has killed Osama bin Ladin and hundreds of other terrorists.
President Obama has Ended the War in Iraq.
President Obama has Begun the drawdown of forces from Afghanistan.
President Obama has Helped overthrow Gaddafi through cautious strategy in Libya (few US deaths).
President Obama has Invested in clean energy, bringing down energy prices.
President Obama has made Wall Street much more consumer-friendly.
President Obama has done a lot for veterans. He implemented a strategic plan to increase the hiring of Veterans and Military spouses throughout the Federal civil service.