Romney says he'll win Wisconsin

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 1:36 PM

John McCormick

JANESVILLE, Wis. - Mitt Romney, expressing confidence while campaigning with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, said Monday he plans to win the battleground state that Democrats have dominated in recent presidential elections.

"We’re going to win Wisconsin and we’re going to get the White House," the presumptive Republican nominee told an audience at a textile factory in Janesville.

Romney is keeping his focus on the economy as he campaigns through contested states, saying he’ll promote a climate friendlier to small business, domestic energy production and job creation, while asserting that President Barack Obama has mismanaged the recovery.

"If there’s ever been a president who has not been able to provide the American people a fair shot, it’s this president," Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said. "We’re going to replace him with someone who will go to work again for you."

Walker, introducing Romney at a Monterey Mills factory, referred to his recent recall election victory.

"It is my honor to still be the 45th governor of the great state of Wisconsin," he said. "And it’s my honor to be on stage with the man I hope is the 45th president of these United States."

The Obama campaign called Romney’s speech Monday "an exercise in angry and evasive rhetoric."

"He offered no ideas of how to create jobs now or strengthen the economy," campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in an emailed statement.

Romney was also joined by GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Budget Committee chairman who endorsed him in March and is often mentioned in media reports as a possible running mate. Ryan accompanied Romney on the campaign trail for five consecutive days before the April 3 Wisconsin presidential primary.

The congressman is the latest prospective running mate to appear with the presumptive Republican nominee on the stump during his five-day bus tour. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, a one-time rival for the nomination, and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio also campaigned with Romney over the weekend.

Romney spent the previous two days visiting small towns in Pennsylvania and Ohio, after starting his six-state tour in New Hampshire on June 15. He’s making similar stops today in Iowa, as well as Wisconsin, before ending the tour Tuesday in his native Michigan.

Obama won all six of those states in 2008, although polling shows Romney competitive in at least some of them. The former private-equity executive is using the trip to try to dispel the notion that he’s a wealthy candidate who lacks regular-guy credentials.

Romney’s visit to Wisconsin was his first since Walker’s June 5 recall victory in a campaign that had dominated the state’s politics for the past year. The governor and other Republicans have said the vote sets the stage for Romney to be competitive there.

Before his speech, Romney toured the unionized factory with Walker. The two men examined the company’s products, including stuffing for teddy bears.

Walker’s win has prompted Democratic and Republican strategists to reassess Wisconsin’s political landscape and the role the state will play in the presidential race. Until just before recall election, targeted states listed by Obama’s campaign didn’t include the state, which has voted Democratic in the past six presidential elections, albeit narrowly at times.

Romney’s message that Obama has failed to fix the economy is a harder sell in Wisconsin than in some other states.

The state’s unemployment rate was 6.8 percent in May, below the national average of 8.2 percent. In Iowa the unemployment rate is even lower, 5.1 percent.

Economic conditions are somewhat bleaker in Janesville, although there is a positive trend there as well. The area’s unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in April, down from 9.2 percent in March.

The area was hurt by the 2009 shuttering of a General Motors plant that resulted in 1,200 job cuts. At the time, the factory was among the oldest of GM’s assembly plants.

The organization and mobilization of Wisconsin Republicans to protect Walker could provide Romney a boost. If he were able to make Wisconsin competitive, it could make a major difference in this year’s campaign. Winning a Midwest state such as Wisconsin or Michigan would provide him an easier path to the 270 electoral votes needed.

A victory wouldn’t be an easy task for Romney, 65. Wisconsin, which has 10 electoral votes, hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since President Ronald Reagan carried it in his 1984 re-election against Democrat Walter Mondale, who won just one state, his native Minnesota.

Obama, 50, beat Republican John McCain in Wisconsin in the 2008 election, 56 percent to 42 percent. An exit poll of recall voters showed Obama beating Romney, 51 percent to 44 percent.

If this presidential election plays out similar to those in 2000 and 2004, Romney could have a fighting chance. Former President George W. Bush came within several thousand votes of winning Wisconsin in both of those election cycles.

Also boosting Republican confidence in the state are their 2010 victories, when the party won the governor’s office, as well as a U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Russ Feingold. They also picked up two House seats in the state’s eight-member delegation and won control of both state legislative chambers.

— With assistance from Margaret Talev in Madison, Wis.

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