Just a Swingin’

Wisconsin hasn’t backed a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan’s reelection in 1984, but national politicos are looking at Wisconsin as one of the states that could decide the 2012 election.

Much attention is given the presidential race at this time of year, but you know the race is getting close when people start talking about Electoral College math. What is even more interesting this time around is that both parties have a big question mark next to Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes.

As the nation was reminded in 2000, it doesn’t matter who wins the popular vote, what matters is which candidate is able to gather 270 Electoral College votes. Whether Wisconsin factors into the swing state math is predicated on whether or not Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio are all in play for Romney. Many national commentators indicate that they are, so Wisconsin will be an important win for either party as they work towards 270.

You can create your own electoral college map at 270towin.com

President Obama won Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008 and has lead in most polls here this year, but there are signs the race is tightening since Janesville native Rep. Paul Ryan joined the GOP ticket as Romney’s running mate.

Putting aside Obama’s big 14-point win here in 2008, the state was decided by less than a percentage point in 2000 and 2004. Republicans won up and down the ticket in 2010, and this summer’s recall victory for Gov. Walker points toward a sustained shift to the right.

However, Democrats argue they still have a statewide advantage, noting atypical elections and GOP- lead redistricting has had an impact in recent races that will not be there in November’s presidential race.

So the campaigns think Wisconsin is a swing state. What does that mean for those of us actually living here? The short answer is – more attention and more intensity.

The Democrats have the Wisconsin recall lists, which are a potential gold mine of grassroots information, and the GOP has claimed “five times more phone calls and 72 times more door knocks have been made than at this time in 2008.” Be prepared for more phone calls, more door knocks, and more political ads.

Both sides know that this race will be tight, so they will be spending extra resources, including time and talent, in swing states. This is already evident from the number of visits Wisconsin is receiving from the vice-presidential candidates (although you have to remember one of them lives here). Romney has visited recently and it is likely Obama will stop by if the campaign feels they need a boost here.

It’s hard to imagine a more intense election than this summer’s recall, but voter turnout data shows only 58% of the public voted. That is more than any previous gubernatorial election in state history, but less than the 69.2% who turned out for the 2008 presidential election.

The variability of the presidential race in Wisconsin opens up questions about down ballot outcomes as well. Control of both the U.S. and the state Senate is up for grabs, and pressure from the top of the ticket could impact both outcomes. Our last three elections have led to major swings and pick-ups for one party over another. Will a tight presidential mean status quo; or will there be some surprises? We shall see.