President Barack Obama will campaign in Madison on Thursday, a day after his first debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney and amid polls showing him ahead in the state but perhaps not a lock.
Opponents characterized his second Wisconsin appearance in two weeks as a sign of a worried campaign. Others think he probably just wants to lap up some lefty love — and draw an easy crowd — following the high-stakes debate.
The Obama campaign announced the Madison appearance Saturday, describing it as "a grass-roots event" but providing no further details. Gillian Morris, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign in Wisconsin, said it will be a free event open to the public, likely requiring tickets.
The Obama campaign is postponing a trip to Columbus, Ohio, to make the trip to Madison.
Obama naturally would want to be on friendly turf after the debate, and he may think he'll draw a bigger turnout here than in Columbus, said Larry Sabato, a political expert and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
"Columbus is mixed politically," Sabato said. "Madison is heavily Democratic."
Appearing in the home state of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate, could be part of the calculus, Sabato said. "He may want to declare victory in the debate right there in Ryan's backyard."
It also could mean Obama feels confident enough about his chances in Ohio to forgo a trip there on such a high-profile day, said Charles Franklin, director of political polling at Marquette University.
Republican officials saw other reasons for the Madison appearance.
"He's finally acknowledging he has a Wisconsin problem," said Ben Sparks, spokesman for the Romney campaign in Wisconsin. "He ignored the state for 120 days and finally came here (Milwaukee) last week (Sept. 22)."
Romney has campaign events scheduled Thursday in Colorado and Virginia, Sparks said.
Nathan Conrad, a spokesman for the state Republican Party, said Obama's Madison visit shows Wisconsin is more in play than the president is comfortable admitting.
"The ground game we've put in play is built on momentum from the (Gov. Scott) Walker recall campaign," he said. "It's put fear in them."
A recent Marquette Law School poll showed Obama leading Romney by 14 percentage points in the state. Other polls have Obama ahead by single digits.
"Wisconsin has never left the list of swing states," Sabato said. "It's leaning to Obama, but that's not the same thing as being secure."
Although the venue for Obama's Madison appearance has yet to be announced, it will not be at the Alliant Energy Center. The World Dairy Expo, which runs Tuesday through Saturday, takes up the entire grounds, including the Dane County Coliseum.
Obama's last visit to Madison on Sept. 28, 2010 also coincided with the World Dairy Expo, which brings about 65,000 people to town over five days.
The overlap is a problem "only if (the Obama campaign) wants to find hotel rooms in town," said Mark Clarke, the Expo's general manager.
On Thursday, Obama first will appear at a campaign event in Denver before traveling to Madison. The debate the night before is scheduled at the University of Denver.