There's a lot of Republican star power in Wisconsin these days – Rep. Paul Ryan, a congressman from the Badger State, on the GOP ticket; Gov. Scott Walker, a recall-election survivor; and Reince Priebus, chairman of the national party. But even that may not be enough to put Wisconsin in the MItt Romney column come the November election.
What Congressman Ryan's new status as running mate probably will do, though, is make the race for Wisconsin a lot more competitive for the Republicans than it has been so far, say political analysts.
“It’s not enough for a slam dunk. It just means Wisconsin is competitive," says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "You can reasonably put it into the column of swing states.”
Even before Saturday, when Mr. Romney announced his pick for vice president, Ryan was known nationally as the intellectual center of his party for his work as chairman of the House Budget Committee and his budget plan to cut federal spending for Medicare, the health-care program for seniors, and Medicaid, the program for the poor.
However, Ryan is a less visible player on the local scene. He has never held statewide office, and his congressional district represents one-eighth of the state. Romney picked him mainly for his economic and fiscal agenda, not so much for his constituent connections, says Mordecai Lee, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.
“[Ryan has] never been politically tested statewide – his influence is not geographical, it’s ideological – and that’s what’s what made him a national figure,” Mr. Lee says. “He could just as well be the congressman from Timbuktu.”
A Republican candidate for president has not won Wisconsin since 1984, and polls show that Romney is so far not positioned to change that record. Romney’s favorable rating in Wisconsin is 36 percent, unmoved since July, according to a Marquette University Law School poll released last week. His unfavorable rating this month, meanwhile, jumped six points to 48 percent.
In comparison, President Obama’s favorable rating among Wisconsin voters rose two points in August to 54 percent, according to the poll.
Governor Walker said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that, to win Wisconsin in November, Romney needs to appeal to voters outside the safety zone of his party.
“For a Republican to win [in Wisconsin], you not only have to secure your base, you have to reach out to independent swing voters," Walker said. "In our state, what we saw in my election two months ago, what they want more than anything is people to tell them the truth who are courageous and [who] are willing to take on tough decisions.”
Having Ryan on the ticket will boost Romney’s polling in Wisconsin, and his Midwest background and Irish-Catholic heritage will resonate throughout the crucial battleground region of the upper Midwest, says Mr. Sabato. But Ryan’s greatest impact might be in forcing the Obama camp to defend a state it might have thought was in the bag.
“Obama now cannot afford to take Wisconsin for granted, and that means he’s going to have to spend money and time there that he preferred to spend elsewhere,” says Sabato. “It means the millions that would have been allocated to other swing states are now going to be allocated to Wisconsin.”
If the Romney-Ryan campaign does not win Wisconsin or Michigan, Romney’s home state, it will make history as only the second ticket since 1824 in which both the presidential and vice-presidential nominee failed to win his home state, he says.