Straight Talk Wins Votes in Wisconsin

Badger State's recent political battles show Obama, Romney how to make inroads with voters

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Social issues also aren't strong motivating factors for Wisconsinites, nor are they playing a large role in presidential campaigning so far. Like most of the country, jobs and tax and spending issues dominate peoples' minds, despite Wisconsin's lower than national average unemployment rate. Wisconsin's most recent unemployment is 7.5 percent compared to 7.8 percent nationally. However, that underwater feeling most of the country has is also pervasive.

"The prototypical voter just wants to feel sane and normal again, I think what they want to see is some stability," says one local GOP official.

But a top state Democrat points out that when Walker was campaigning to overcome the recall, he was touting the state's re-emerging manufacturing sector and blanketing the state with ads promoting recent economic growth. That counters the Romney campaign messaging that the last four years have been nothing but economic stagnation.

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Brian Schimming, GOP consultant, talk radio host, and vice chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party, says Romney should take his cue from Walker, who has shown straight talk works in Wisconsin.

"It sounds simplistic, but if we were ever in a time in politics where people understand we have big problems, I think we're there right now," he says. He encourages Romney not only to visit the state more frequently but to also utilize Ryan as a Wisconsin-trusted messenger to make his economic case.

One key factor both sides cited is the makeup of the electorate on Election Day, which will be based on the turnout efforts and the general enthusiasm for the election. Democrats are making big pushes for turnout on college campuses, including the 40,000-student flagship, University of Wisconsin in Madison. But Eau Claire in northern Wisconsin and working-class Green Bay in the east are also important battleground cities for both sides.

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Republicans are banking on the fact that many of Obama's 2008 voters were first-timers, likely college age, who have been disenfranchised by the slumping economy and won't turn out again. Democrats meanwhile, gleefully point out the Walker recall exit poll that showed voters saying they would have split their ticket and supported both Walker and Obama.

"There are Obama-Walker voters. And for a partisan like me, it's hard to get my head around," says a top Obama official in Wisconsin. "But what they see are guys who have a plan and are trying to get it done in the face of unbelievable opposition on the other side."

The "reformer" label is a powerful one in Wisconsin, and GOP officials say Romney needs to improve his messaging on that front to improve his standing in the state.

"At the end of the day, I think he just needs to keep sticking to the message he's been putting out about fiscal sanity returning to Washington," says Nathan Conrad, communications director of the Wisconsin Republican Party. "The people who have seen it working in our state would like to see it work in Washington."

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  • Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at rmetzler@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter.