Battleground Wisconsin

It’s been 20 years since the state of Wisconsin voted Republican in a presidential election. Four years ago, Al Gore won the state by a margin of 5,711 votes. And the Kerry campaign is still considered by some to have an edge leading up to the 2004 race, thanks to union strongholds in Milwaukee and left-leaning college towns like Madison.

The Bush campaign is waging a furious grassroots fight to win the state. “We are going to win the state—no ifs ands or buts—and it’s not because we’re complacent,” says Karl Rove, senior advisor and chief political strategist for President Bush. Rove, who addressed a breakfast meeting for Wisconsin’s Republican convention delegates, said the party isn’t ignoring Milwaukee. But it’s also making a massive effort to get out the vote in the more rural and conservative regions of the state, to the south and west.

Rove said the battle for Wisconsin is similar to Bush’s hard-fought victory four years ago in West Virginia. Republican presidential candidates hadn’t bothered to campaign in the state since Richard Nixon dropped in at the airport in 1956, Rove said. President Clinton easily won the state by a 16-point margin in 1996. But in 2000, the Republicans organized a network of 28 field headquarters, knocked on 250,000 doors and made 800,000 phone calls on behalf of Bush, who ended up winning West Virginia by 6-points. He promised the same effort in Wisconsin. “We’re going to knock on every door. You’re going to get sick and tired of seeing us by the time it’s over,” he said.

Mary Buestrin, the chairwoman of the Bush campaign in Wisconsin, said it’s the most intense political campaign that she has witnessed during her 40 years as a Republican in Wisconsin. The national Bush campaign had asked her to mobilize 28,000 volunteers. She overshot that goal and signed up 36,000. “We’re going to win,” she said.

With 10 electoral votes, Wisconsin is hardly the biggest prize on the political map. But in a tight race, it could put the Bush campaign over the top.

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