MADISON, Wis. (AP) — With Hurricane Sandy forcing President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney to cancel their appearances early this week in Wisconsin, attempts to personally persuade the state’s famously fickle voters in the waning days of the race will have to wait.
Wisconsin hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan in 1984, but two of the last three presidential elections have been decided by less than half a percentage point. With polls showing the race this year in Wisconsin to be tight, both sides are doing all they can to both shore up their base of support and reach out to the few remaining undecided voters.
Obama canceled a Tuesday campaign stop in Green Bay so he could stay in Washington to monitor Hurricane Sandy as it hit the East Coast. Instead, former President Bill Clinton planned to campaign this week in Wisconsin as part of a Midwest swing. Details about Clinton’s trip weren’t immediately released.
Romney was scheduled to campaign in the Milwaukee area on Monday night, but he also canceled due to the storm. His running mate Paul Ryan still planned to return home to Janesville on Wednesday both to campaign and trick-or-treat with his kids.
While Romney and Obama work on capturing undecided voters, they also are trying to shore up their bases of support. Romney’s stop Monday came in the reliably Republican territory that surrounds Milwaukee, a Democratic hub. And Obama attracted 30,000 people earlier this month in Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin and a faithfully Democratic electorate.
“We continue to feel very confident about Wisconsin and what we’ve built there on the ground,” said Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina Monday on a conference call with reporters.
Elsewhere in the state, such as Brown County where Green Bay is located, voters have been much more difficult to predict.
Clinton carried Brown County by 5 points in 1996. Republican George W. Bush won it by 5 points in 2000 and by 10 points in 2004. But in 2008, Obama reversed that momentum and won it by 9 points. Just four months ago, Republican Gov. Scott Walker carried the county by a whopping 20 points in the recall election.
Republicans are confident they have momentum in Wisconsin following Walker’s 7-point victory in the June recall and the addition of Ryan to the ticket. The most recent Marquette University Law School poll released Oct. 17 had Obama and Romney essentially tied, with only 2 percent undecided.
Joe Prosser, a 30-year-old office worker, has voted for both Democrats and Republicans in the past and he’s equally bipartisan in his disappointment with both Obama and Romney.
“I want someone to tell the truth and say we need to cut the size of government and we need to do it now before it’s too late,” Prosser said. “I just want honesty. There’s nobody being truthful about any of this.”
Even though the state hasn’t swung anything but left since GOP vice presidential candidate Ryan was in middle school, its history of having a high number of independent voters like Prosser keeps it in play.
Wisconsin holds the reputation as a bastion of persuadable voters open to switching from one party to another based on the issue, personality or political winds of the day. Making it even more difficult to nail down the state’s electorate, by law they don’t register by political party.
“We have people who will go either way depending on what their strong feelings are,” state Sen. Fred Risser, 85, a Democrat who has been in office since 1956.
Risser’s own family embodies Wisconsin’s political history. His father served in the state Senate as a Progressive, his grandfather was a Republican in the Assembly and his great-grandfather was in the Legislature as a Unionist in the 1860s.
“I don’t think either political party has come out with a good, liberal social program and an economic program which is considered frugal,” Risser said. “Since neither party takes what I consider the mood of the state, the state bounces back and forth. … You have people that are not necessarily sold on one party or the other.”
Prosser remains undecided and may not decide who to vote for until he walks into the booth on Election Day.
“If it was today, I don’t know what I would do,” Prosser said. “I might make up my mind with the pen in my hand. … If I voted my conscience, it would be for neither of them.”
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