Could Rep. Paul Ryan put Wisconsin in play for Mitt Romney?

Wisconsin isn't beyond reach for Mitt Romney, the latest swing states poll by Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS shows. So maybe the veepstakes buzz around Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan is warranted.

Evan Vucci/AP/File
Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wis., left, looks on as Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands during a campaign stop at Monterey Mills on Monday, June 18, in Janesville, Wis.

The top-line results of the latest swing states poll, released Wednesday, show a presidential race still very much a jump ball heading into convention season.

In the Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll, President Obama leads Mitt Romney among likely voters 49 percent to 45 percent in Virginia – a former Republican stronghold that has morphed into a tossup state with the growth of its liberal-leaning Washington suburbs. The president is also ahead in Wisconsin, 51 to 45 percent, a state that pundits generally see as Democratic-leaning. But in Colorado, another tossup state that went for Mr. Obama in 2008 (as did the other two), Mr. Romney leads 50 to 45 percent.  

It’s just one set of surveys – albeit with decent sample sizes, more than 1,400 likely voters in each state – but the results are still telling: Obama faces a yawning deficit among white working-class voters, while Romney’s deficit among women is equally large. In addition, there is an opening on gun control, with voters in all three states supporting a ban on high-volume ammunition magazines. And, when the results of another poll are factored in, the Wisconsin survey may even nudge Romney in a certain direction for his running mate.

First, on the veepstakes, the latest buzz is around Rep. Paul Ryan – the earnest young budget maven considered by some to be the intellectual leader of the Republican Party. Representative Ryan hails from a battleground district in Wisconsin and yet has crushed every opponent he has run against, starting with his first race in 1998. With Romney trailing in Wisconsin by only six percentage points (margin of error of plus or minus three), that puts the state near tossup territory.

An analysis by Nate Silver of The New York Times finds that a running mate nets an additional two percentage points, give or take, to his or her home state. So if a race is tight, that could be decisive. In the current veepstakes, an analysis of polls by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shows that of nearly three dozen potential VP candidates tested in 15 states since mid-May, “none helps Romney improve his position better in the potential running mate’s home state than Ryan in Wisconsin,” the political website Daily Caller reports.  

A PPP poll of Wisconsin taken in early June showed Obama beating Romney 50 percent to 44 percent. But with Ryan on the ticket, Obama’s lead dropped to just one percentage point.

The choice of Ryan would be a bold move – bolder than, say, the two other most-mentioned names, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. Ryan’s proposals for entitlement reform – e.g., turning Medicare into a voucher system – would make him a controversial pick. Those “throw Granny off the cliff” ads would come roaring back. But Ryan would energize conservatives who are now more anti-Obama than pro-Romney while lighting a fire under Obama’s base.

Given Romney’s deficit in national polls and in key battleground states, he might decide that bold is required, even if he’s usually the more cautious type.

The latest Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll, which was taken July 31 to Aug. 6, also demonstrates why Obama is making women voters a focus of his visit to Colorado Wednesday and Thursday. He continues to poll well among women – beating Romney 51 to 43 percent in Colorado, 54 to 40 percent in Virginia, and 59 to 36 percent in Wisconsin – while Romney wins the male vote 56 to 39 percent in Colorado, 50 to 45 percent in Virginia, and 53 to 43 percent in Wisconsin. For Obama to win, he needs to maintain the gender gap that has benefited all Democratic presidential candidates since 1980.

At his first stop In Colorado, Obama will be introduced by Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student who spoke out for insurance coverage of contraception at her Catholic-affiliated school, sparking a fierce conservative backlash.

A big weak spot for Obama is among white working-class voters – defined in the Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll as people without college degrees and with household incomes of $30,000 to $100,000. Romney’s lead within that demographic in the three states polled – as well as in three other battleground states polled last week by the same team, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – showed that he  is “holding his own” among those voters. But he is “running no stronger than Sen. John McCain did four years ago,” the Times reports.

Public support for banning high-capacity magazines for firearms gives Obama an opening on gun control, especially in the wake of recent massacres in Colorado and Wisconsin. In Colorado, for example, voters favor a nationwide ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines, 58 to 35 percent.

But any move by Obama to limit access to ammunition would inflame the passions of gun owners, who are already on high alert with a president they see as itching to take their guns away.

Moreover, even those who support gun control question its utility. The Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll shows a “strong majority view that stricter gun control is unlikely to be effective in preventing events like the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., last month,” writes Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Conn.

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