POLITICS

Voter frustration with Obama puts Wisconsin in play

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Photo - Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis. (AP photo)
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis. (AP photo)
Politics,Alan Blinder,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

LA CROSSE, Wis. - For Paul Kaiser, it was the attack in Libya that left four Americans dead.

For Pam Reinemann, it was a national economy that continues to sputter.

Whatever their reasons, voters like Kaiser and Reinemann who have grown frustrated with President Obama have given Republican Mitt Romney new hope of challenging the president for the 10 electoral votes of Wisconsin, a state that voted Democratic in seven of the last 10 elections.

"It's been gradual," Kaiser, a retired veteran from La Crosse, said of his break with Obama. "Personally, I have no qualms with him. Policywise, I do."

Kaiser said he's now "more than likely" going to vote for Romney on Nov. 6.

In Lake Mills, about 150 miles from La Crosse, Reinemann, an antique shop owner, tells a similar story.

"He didn't do the right job, and I don't know that I trust that four more years will be better," Reinemann said. "Obama is a smooth talker. I don't necessarily know that it makes him a better president."

Reinemann said she's still undecided, "not totally with either one of them."

Wisconsin, with an unemployment rate slightly below the national average, is a political paradox: The state awarded Obama a 14-percentage-point victory in 2008, but two years later elected a Republican governor. Moreover, energized state Republicans resoundingly turned back a June effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker amid a bitter dispute over public employee labor unions.

"There's a large portion of the electorate that organizes their attitudes as liberal on some issues and conservative on others," said Michael Wagner, a University of Wisconsin political scientist. "They don't have a party that represents the totality of their views, and they're frustrated."

That frustration has manifested in recent weeks as Obama's lead dropped from double digits in September to just a few points.

Obama's campaign said it's not surprised or concerned that Wisconsin has tightened.

"We have said from day one that this would be a much more competitive race than it was four years ago. It's no surprise," said Obama spokesman Joe Zepecki. "We feel good. I think that no matter what public poll you look at it, it backs that up."

Republican activists, however, sense opportunity, and say the effort to eject Walker increased their chances of wresting the state from Obama.

"The grassroots strength that was in place for the recall is in place for the presidential election," said Jeff Snow, chairman of the College Republicans at the University of Wisconsin. "I completely believe that we can replicate the numbers we had in the recall. We have those voters targeted."

Obama's spokesman acknowledged that the recall helped the GOP sharpen its organization in Wisconsin.

"I'm happy to concede to them that it's a little bit better," Zepecki said. "But I won't concede -- and I don't think they can say with a straight face -- that they've caught up with us."

Both sides and independent analysts are predicting high voter turnout here.

"There are lots of reasons for people to show up to the polls," Wagner said. "It's a state where if you're a supporter of Barack Obama, he has to have Wisconsin, and if you're a Romney supporter, the idea of breaking through Obama's firewall makes voting worthwhile."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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