MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama traveled across Wisconsin on Friday, as both Democrats and Republicans made a push to get supporters to the polls with the start of early in-person voting next week.
Republicans including Sen. Ron Johnson, former U.S. Rep. Mark Green and national committee chairman Reince Priebus were on a bus tour through the state Friday and Saturday with the same purpose.
From Green Bay to Milwaukee, Madison to La Crosse, Racine to Rhinelander and all places in between, Republicans and Democrats are hoping to get their supporters to the polls during the early voting period, which starts Monday and runs through Nov. 2, the Friday before Election Day.
Michelle Obama, speaking to an overflow crowd of 2,500 in Racine, extolled people to vote early because the election will be tighter than in 2008. She also directed people to a website where they can get information about registering to vote and where to cast ballots early.
“And it could all come down to just a few battleground states like right here in Wisconsin,” she said to applause. “This state could be decided by just a few thousand votes.”
Election clerks across the state were preparing for long lines Monday.
“I just got a call about an hour ago from the Democratic Party telling me Monday morning at 8 o’clock you’re going to have 50 people at the door,” said Green Bay city clerk Kris Teske. “That sort of tells me something.”
The early, in-person voting period is more than a week shorter this year. It’s one of the changes the Republican-controlled Legislature made to the state’s election laws. Another change, requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, has been overturned in court and is not in effect for the election.
In 2008, when Obama won Wisconsin by 14 points, one in five ballots were cast early or as absentee votes. Polls show a much tighter race this year, with Obama and Romney just about even with less than three weeks to go, making the fight over every vote even more important.
Obama made a plea for early voting before a crowd of 30,000 on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus earlier this month. A videotaped message he recorded just before he took the stage at that event, urging people to vote early, was released on Thursday by the Obama campaign.
Michelle Obama was making the push for absentee voting in two swing parts of the state — Racine in the south and Wausau in central Wisconsin. Clinton was also headed to Green Bay, an area that leans Republican but that Obama easily carried four years ago.
The Republican bus tour was hitting those three cities as well as Sheboygan, West Bend, Kenosha, Franklin, Waukesha, Elkhorn, and Janesville.
Wisconsin hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since 1984, but the GOP is hopeful it can build on GOP momentum that started with a string of victories in 2010.
Romney campaign spokesman Ben Sparks released statistics showing that requests for mail-in absentee ballots are way up this year in heavily Republican parts of Wisconsin, a sign that would be good for Romney. Sparks said Republicans have made 1.7 million voter contacts in the state.
Democrats are also confident that their campaigning is working. In 2008, the strong get-out-the-vote effort, which included an emphasis on early voting, helped Obama win states that traditionally went to Republicans.
“I feel very, very confident about where we are,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate. “We have a very, very strong ground game.”
Tate said volunteers knocked on 65,000 doors across the state last weekend in the rain. The early voting push this year will be bigger than in 2008.
Statewide as of Friday, about 110,000 absentee ballots had been requested by election clerks who use the statewide voter database. The ballots are mailed and collected locally, so there is no overall total for how many have been requested or returned.
In Green Bay four years ago, about half of the 8,300 people who voted early did so in person, Teske the clerk said. She expects even more people to do so this year.
In Milwaukee in 2008, about 33,000 people voted in-person early out of the 280,000 city residents who cast ballots in the election, said Neil Albrecht, executive director of Milwaukee’s election commission.
He’s preparing for big crowds, as is Sun Prairie city clerk Diane Hermann-Brown. She expects it to be comparable to 2008 when 35 percent of people who voted in the city did so absentee, either by mail or in person.
“I think we’re going to get hit,” she said. “It’s going to be heavy turnout.”
Wisconsin state election officials are predicting about 3 million people, or 69 percent of the state’s 4.378 million voters, will cast ballots in the election.
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