President Barack Obama told supporters in Wisconsin, home turf of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, to dedicate their energy to voting for him and not disparaging Republicans.
“In the coming weeks, folks here in Wisconsin and across the country, people are going to have a very big choice to make,” Obama said at a fundraiser yesterday in Milwaukee. “Top-down economics never works.”
“No hissing or booing,” he said when someone from the audience expressed displeasure with Republican policies. “Just voting.” At a public rally later in the evening, that theme became a call-and-response line, with Obama exhorting the crowd not to boo, and the audience shouting “vote.”
Obama’s visit to Wisconsin came as he’s leading challenger Mitt Romney in the state even as Republican political groups have outspent Obama supporters on advertising.
The president poked fun at Republican Romney’s wealth, which was again revealed in the 2011 tax returns that the Romney campaign released Sept. 21.
“I want to keep your taxes low,” Obama said. “But I can afford to pay a little more and Mitt Romney sure can afford to pay a little bit more.”
Romney and his wife, Ann, paid a 14.1 percent federal tax rate on $13.7 million of income in 2011, according to tax returns he released.
Obama has opened up a 54 percent to 40 percent lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a Sept. 13-16 Marquette University poll. The survey of 601 likely voters in Wisconsin had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College poll conducted Sept. 16-18 of 968 likely voters in Wisconsin gave Obama a 50 percent to 45 percent advantage over Romney, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
“After the conventions, Obama has come out on top,” said Eric Giordano, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin in Marathon County. “But people here realize that this is a very serious race and that we’re going to be getting a lot of visits here.”
Romney’s campaign, along with pro-Romney super-political action commmittees, had run a total of 7,727 advertisements in Wisconsin through Sept. 17, compared with 1,577 ads for Obama, according to a review of data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising. Together the opponents have spent about $4.6 million on political commercials.
“The ads have been hot and heavy,” said Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “After Ryan was picked, that put us into battleground status.”
Ryan, a U.S. representative from Wisconsin, is chairman of the House Budget Committee and a favorite of the Tea Party movement, which backs limited government spending. Wisconsin has backed a Democrat in the past six presidential elections.
Obama was headlining fundraising events in Milwaukee, including a $250-per-person reception for about 550 attendees and a smaller gathering for about 20 people paying $25,000 each. Former baseball star Hank Aaron attended both events.
Obama hadn’t visited the state since a Feb. 15 trip to the factory floor of Master Lock Co., where he recommended changes in the tax code to promote U.S. manufacturing.
“After an absence of 220 days, President Obama has finally returned to Wisconsin,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement. “Mitt Romney has a plan for a stronger middle class that will result in more jobs, higher take-home pay, and a real recovery for our economy.”
Wisconsin was polarized by an effort to recall first-term Republican Governor Scott Walker, who tried to curb the influence of public-sector unions and then won a June 5 recall election this year with 53 percent of the vote, compared with his 52 percent win in the 2010 general election. Milwaukee’s Democratic mayor, Tom Barrett, ran against him in both races.
“The Republicans definitely have an organizational advantage,” Giordano said. “They created a series of victory centers around the state and it was a preview of the presidential election.”
While the Walker recall divided the state, some of his supporters may be open to backing Obama. “Seven percent of Walker supporters said that they would vote for Obama,” said Burden. “That was the shocking thing about the polls on Election Day.”
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 7.5 percent last month, which is still below the 8.1 percent national average, according to the Labor Department. Manufacturing in the southern part of the state, including the closure of a General Motors Co. plant in Janesville, in Ryan’s congressional district, has suffered.
In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, last month, Ryan accused Obama of letting the plant close even after promising to keep it open during the 2008 campaign. While the plant stopped production under Obama’s presidency, most of the job losses occurred before he took office.
Four years ago, Obama captured Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes by taking 56 percent of the vote. In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry won it by 0.3 percent, or 11,384 votes.
“They are stronger than McCain was in ’08, no question, on the ground,” said Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina said in a briefing with reporters in Milwaukee.
“Because of the recall election, they test drove their car whereas in other states they haven’t,” Messina said. “It would make sense they’re strong here, as are we.”
Romney is spending the day wooing donors in California, a state where he has run no advertisements and which hasn’t supported a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. The Republican candidate has held three public rallies this week, sparking criticism from members of his party that he isn’t doing enough campaigning. He has scheduled a bus tour of Ohio next week.