- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 12, 2012

NORTH HUDSON, Wis. — Out of necessity and emboldened by recent GOP strides in Wisconsin, Republican challenger Mitt Romney has drawn President Obama into a fight for a state the incumbent Democrat won handily four years ago and his party hasn’t lost since 1984.

Just two months before Election Day, Wisconsin has emerged as the latest presidential battleground. Television advertising is flooding it. And both campaigns are jockeying for its 10 electoral votes as each looks to rack up wins in enough states to accumulate the 270 votes needed for victory. Mr. Romney has fewer ways to do that so he’s turned to Wisconsin — where Republicans like Gov. Scott Walker have had success since 2008 and where Romney running mate Paul Ryan lives — presumably in hopes that a win here will offset a loss elsewhere.

Republicans and Democrats say internal polling shows Mr. Obama ahead, though public surveys show a closer race.

Undeterred by the state’s historic Democratic bent, Mr. Romney started airing TV ads here this week reminding voters of a ballooning federal debt that now tops $16 trillion. GOP outside groups already have spent weeks running ads raising concern over the Obama health care law and inviting those who backed him in 2008 to switch sides. Mr. Ryan, who is also on Wisconsin’s ballot for his House seat, is reinforcing those messages with his own commercials paid for by his congressional campaign fund.

Refusing to cede ground, a pro-Obama group has reserved air time to run anti-Romney spots through November’s election; Mr. Obama’s campaign planned to begin advertising in the state on Wednesday.

Both candidates also are dispatching their No. 2s to the state; Mr. Ryan returned Wednesday for his third large-scale rally in a month and Democratic Vice President Joseph R. Biden is swooping in Thursday to Eau Claire.

In neighborhoods, competing campaign signs are cropping up again. So are the divisions.

Retired teacher Ron Jacobson ticked off a list of reasons he can’t stomach Mr. Obama, and confessed he’s more excited about the prospect of Mr. Obama losing than Mr. Romney winning.

“He has to be a little more forceful,” Mr. Jacobson said, urging the Republican nominee to show more of his personality, come harder at Mr. Obama and “toot his own horn a little bit more.”

Obama supporter Chuck Schultz, a retired Methodist minister and counselor, has no illusion that 2012 will be as much of a walkover as 2008.

“Nothing is as exciting as the beginning of the new romance even though the long-term relationship is often more productive,” Mr. Schultz said. “It’s hard to be wildly enthusiastic about the guy who’s not new anymore.”

There are reasons for Mr. Romney to think he has a shot here, and that help explain why Mr. Obama’s campaign and state Democrats have been girding for a closer election this fall than his 14-point win in 2008.

Wisconsin Republicans are on a hot streak. Not even two years into his term, Mr. Walker soundly fended off an expensive recall challenge sparked by his moves to limit public employee benefits and union bargaining power. Tea party-supported Republican Ron Johnson upended Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in one of the surprise races of 2010.

Mindful of those GOP victories, Mr. Obama prepared for a Wisconsin fight. He opened 50 offices where volunteers have been working to persuade voters for months. Mr. Romney has about half as many offices, but Republicans say they’re hardly starting from scratch because many volunteers didn’t let up after the hard-fought campaign to protect Mr. Walker’s job in the June recall election.

“We’re well positioned to compete,” Romney senior adviser Kevin Madden said. “Because we have Paul Ryan on the ticket, it’s just another reason why we think we can do very well there and put it in the win column in 2012.”

It won’t be easy.

Mr. Obama’s win was so decisive last time that he prevailed in 59 Wisconsin counties to Sen. John McCain’s 13. Four years before, in 2004, Republican President George W. Bush amassed 45 county wins in his razor-thin loss in the state to Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry.



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