Mitt Romney sought Monday to capitalize on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's victory in a contentious recall election and predicted that momentum from that race will help him win the state come November and, with it, the White House.
Wisconsin hasn't voted for a Republican for president since 1984, and President Barack Obama won big here in 2008. But Republicans sense an opportunity after Walker survived a Democratic push to oust him after he took on public sector unions. So does Romney.
"I think President Obama had just put this in his column," Romney told cheering supporters inside a textile company with Walker at his side as his six-state bus tour brought him to Janesville, about 75 miles southwest of Milwaukee. "He just assumed from the very beginning that Wisconsin was going to be his. But you know what? We're going to win Wisconsin and we're going to get in the White House."
Romney also was joined by Rep. Paul Ryan, the architect of the House Republican budget that would restructure federal entitlement programs. Ryan's hometown of Janesville was hit hard by the recession; a General Motors plant that once employed thousands closed in 2009.
The stop opened the fourth day of a five-day bus tour that already has taken Romney from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania and Ohio. Monday's itinerary also includes stops in Iowa — for a boat tour in Dubuque and a rally in Davenport. He planned to campaign in Michigan on Tuesday, the final day of the campaign swing.
Ryan is one of several potential vice presidential picks to campaign with Romney during the tour. The likely presidential nominee also has appeared with New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.
Heavy with both factories and farms, Ryan's district in southern Wisconsin is typically carried by Democratic presidential candidates. Obama carried the state by 14 points in 2008 — an unusual margin, given that Democrats John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000 each won Wisconsin by less than a single percentage point.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama delivered a speech in Janesville. But the state has shifted decidedly to the right since then.
Walker and Republicans swept into power in 2010, turning the entire state Legislature to their side and knocking Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold from office. Obama's campaign is clearly nervous, and has moved the state from trending toward the president to undecided.
"We are not really a red state or a blue state. We really aren't," said state Sen. Tim Cullen, a moderate Democrat from Janesville who previously worked as a cabinet secretary for former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. "People in this state split their ticket in huge numbers, so it's not at all unusual to have people vote for Gov. Walker and President Obama."
Walker introduced Romney and said Wisconsin's unemployment rate is at its lowest point since 2008. He credited the state's Republican legislators — not Obama's policies.
"We were able to show here in Wisconsin that you can turn thing around," Walker said. "We've turned things around in Wisconsin. It's time to elect a leader who can turn things around for America."
Unemployment in Wisconsin fell to 6.7 percent in April, well below the national average. But Janesville, a city of about 60,000, has lagged.
The city's unemployment rate spiked to almost 16 percent in the months after the GM plant closed before gradually falling to 9 percent in April. That is still the seventh-highest rate for any Wisconsin city.
An Associated Press exit poll of voters in the Walker recall on June 5 showed a majority said they would vote for Obama in November.
Still, Republicans are confident after Walker's 7-point win in the recall election. Republicans here point to an energized ground organization they built to keep Walker in office, and Romney inherits a party infrastructure that made 4.5 million voter contacts in recent months and has 26 field offices across the state.
"That is the organizational strength we're going to take to November," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said after the election. "We crushed the Democrats on the ground. We beat them at their own game."
The Obama campaign has been on the ground organizing in Wisconsin but hasn't spent money on advertising for months. Neither Obama nor Romney has run TV ads in the state.
Obama steered clear of Wisconsin during the recall race and did not campaign for the Democratic candidate. Obama's last visit to Wisconsin was in February, at a Master Lock plant in Milwaukee.
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