Mitt Romney’s selection of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate again has thrust Wisconsin onto the national stage. But questions persist as to whether the Republican’s choice of a native son actually puts the state in play come November.
Romney announced his selection of the Janesville congressman Saturday, sending a wave of excitement across the state that had people on both sides of the political aisle in front of their TV sets, watching Ryan accept the honor.
But that excitement was tempered somewhat by predictions that his addition to the ticket would do little to change Romney’s prospects in the state, where President Barack Obama won in 2008 and where polls show he leads Romney going into the
Nov. 6 election.
"I think it is a great choice, but I highly doubt it will change anything here," said Mordecai Lee, a UW-Milwaukee political science professor and former Democratic state lawmaker. "This state has been so divided the past two years, I just don’t think there are a lot of persuadable people out there. They are in one camp or the other."
Most polls over the past several months have shown Obama leading the former Massachusetts governor by as much as 7 percentage points. That is a lot to make up, which is why both sides have so far essentially left Wisconsin alone.
Mark Graul, a Republican political consultant who has worked on several campaigns, said that will likely change soon. Graul predicts Romney will start running TV ads in Wisconsin within the week. He expects the president to follow suit.
"That will continue until October, and then they will have to see what the polls are telling them," he said.
If Romney has cut Obama’s lead by that point — something Graul said is very possible — Wisconsin could become a key state for the campaigns in the last month before the election.
A poll released by Public Policy Polling in July tried to determine if Ryan’s addition to the ticket would help Romney in Wisconsin. It found that state voters favored Obama to Romney by a margin of 50 to 44. But when Ryan’s name was added to the GOP ticket, the gap closed to 47-46 in favor of the president.
That same month, the Marquette Law School poll found that while Ryan’s favorables with all voters in state only slightly edge his unfavorables, the seven-term congressman does better than Romney with independents, scoring 40 percent favorable to 25 percent unfavorable. Among respondents, 31 percent had a favorable impression of Romney, with 40 percent unfavorable.
"It’s conceivable that Ryan can help Romney pick off some independent voters," said Charles Franklin, the poll’s director. "Will that be enough to tip the scales? Maybe. But I doubt it."
Ryan’s reputation as a budget hawk could be a boost, though. Marquette Law School’s latest poll, conducted in August, found that 82 percent of those polled considered the country’s budget problems to be either "extremely" or "very" important.
It is for this reason, said Larry Sabato, that Ryan could prove to be more of a national rather than a local pick for Romney. Sabato, a national political expert and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, has been handicapping the VP selection for months. He had Ryan listed in his top five likely choices.
"This clearly was about shoring up the conservative and tea party elements of the Republican Party, which Romney has wrestled with," Sabato said. "To me, this is only secondarily a Wisconsin pick. And I really doubt it will change the outcome there. People just don’t change sides anymore."