Wisconsin Offers Window Into Challenges Confronting Romney
By JEFF ZELENY and MARJORIE CONNELLY
Published: September 19, 2012http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/us/politics/obama-holds-edge-over-romney-in-wisconsin-poll-shows.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0moc.semityn.www&partner=rss&emc=rss
RACINE, Wis. — To Mitt Romney, the 10 electoral votes in Wisconsin may be more essential than extra, a critical backup plan if a first-tier battleground state falls out of reach.
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Seven weeks until the election, with Mr. Romney facing new questions about his ability to gain trust among voters experiencing economic hardships, his campaign is increasingly pointing to Wisconsin as a place where a statewide Republican resurgence could rub off on Mr. Romney.
But President Obama has overtaken Mr. Romney on who would do a better job handling the economy, according to a new Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll of likely Wisconsin voters. The poll also found that Mr. Obama has a 17-point edge over Mr. Romney when voters are asked if a candidate cares about their needs and problems.
As the president makes his first campaign visit of the year to Wisconsin on Saturday, the poll found that Mr. Obama was the choice of 51 percent to 45 percent for Mr. Romney among likely voters. The six-point lead, which includes those who said they were leaning in one direction or another, marks a slight shift in Mr. Obama’s direction since Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin joined the Republican ticket last month.
The findings of the poll, along with the fallout from newly exposed remarks Mr. Romney made at a fund-raiser in which he bluntly suggested that 47 percent of Americans saw themselves as victims who are dependent on the government, offer a window into the challenges confronting his campaign here and other important swing states during the final 48 days of the race.
Rob Jankowski, an independent voter who supported Mr. Obama four years ago but has been disappointed by his economic leadership and disapproves of his health care plan, is among the 3 percent of voters in the survey who say they are still undecided. He said he did not feel loyalty to Mr. Obama simply because he supported him last time, but he said Mr. Romney had not made his case.
“Obama is putting out his plans and his details and being more public on that, but with Romney it’s kind of gray,” said Mr. Jankowski, 39, speaking in a follow-up interview Tuesday afternoon here in Jefferson Park, as a cool breeze rustled the tree leaves. “I’d like to know more — educate me.”
The New York Times, in collaboration with Quinnipiac and CBS News, is tracking the presidential race with recurring polls in six states. The latest collection of surveys also included Colorado, where Mr. Romney is running nearly even with Mr. Obama, and Virginia, where Mr. Obama has a narrow advantage of four percentage points, both of which are inside the survey’s margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points for each candidate.
But for Mr. Romney, Wisconsin offers one of the best chances to fight on Mr. Obama’s terrain in the Midwest and expand the battleground map. The Romney campaign has redirected some of its money and manpower once intended for Michigan and Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, hoping to create as many paths as possible to reaching the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
The importance of Wisconsin was amplified this week when the leading “super PAC” supporting Mr. Romney, Restore Our Future, bought $820,000 in television advertising for the final stretch of the race. The Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee also have stepped up their investments in the state, underscoring the urgency for Mr. Romney to try and change the landscape of the race.
Yet the poll found that Republicans have formidable challenges in Wisconsin, with Mr. Obama expanding his lead among women and remaining far more competitive among men than in many battleground states. The poll found that 55 percent of women support Mr. Obama and 41 percent prefer Mr. Romney, but among men there is only a two percentage point difference between the candidates.
“I think Obama has done a much better job than anyone realizes,” said Laurie Bookstein, 62, an independent voter in Milwaukee, speaking in a follow-up interview. “I think Obama’s honesty and integrity in creating a better economy is important to the country as a whole.”
The degree to which Wisconsin will develop as a top-tier battleground state depends on how the opening waves of advertising by candidates and outside groups settle in.
The airwaves here were relatively quiet until last week. Wisconsin has become more appealing to Mr. Romney out of necessity, aides said, with his campaign worried about its trajectory in Ohio and Virginia.
A victory in Iowa and Wisconsin, for example, would mean 16 electoral votes, more than the 13 of Virginia. If Mr. Romney prevailed in New Hampshire, that would give him 20 electoral votes, surpassing Ohio’s 18.
The Romney campaign is strengthened here by one of the most tested party operations in the country, which earlier this summer helped Gov. Scott Walker fight off a recall challenge. The governor’s job approval rating is now 52 percent, the poll found. Republicans say their gains in 2010, along with Mr. Walker’s victory in June, have wiped away Mr. Obama’s 14-point advantage from 2008.
The president’s overall approval rating in Wisconsin stands at 51 percent, and he holds an advantage over Mr. Romney across all significant sets of issues, from handling health care, taxes, Medicare and the ability to handle an international crisis.
The poll found that Mr. Romney is backed by more independents than Mr. Obama, and a majority of those who are more enthusiastic about voting this year. But Mr. Romney, who has struggled to build a personal connection and an empathetic appeal, is viewed by 55 percent of likely voters here as a candidate whose policies favor the rich compared with 10 percent for the middle class.
The state polls were conducted by telephone, both landlines and cellphones, from Sept. 11 to 17 among 1,485 likely voters in Wisconsin, 1,497 likely voters in Colorado and 1,474 likely voters in Virginia. The findings are largely similar across the states, particularly Mr. Romney’s fading advantage on being the candidate best equipped to turn around the economy.
“I am voting against Obama because four years ago he made these promises as to what he would do to improve the economy,” said Arnold Gesch, 83, a retired real estate broker and independent voter from Sheboygan, speaking in a follow-up interview. “I just have no faith in him.”
It remains an open question how voters will react to the challenges facing Mr. Romney, including his forceful defense of a secretly recorded video of him at a fund-raiser in May. But a sense of agitation was detected in some follow-up interviews Tuesday at his suggestion about people being dependent on government.
“I’m not a bottom-feeder like they try to make us out to be,” said Eddie Gochenour, 66, a retired engineer from Danville, Va., who said he had been a Republican for 44 years but intended to support Mr. Obama.
“I earned what I’m getting, and worked all my life for my benefits. I have a good nest egg, but I also earned what I’m getting from the government.”