President Obama speaks about middle class tax relief during a campaign… (Saul Loeb / AFP Getty Images )
Talk of Wisconsin being a toss-up state in the presidential election seems premature, judging by two polls released Wednesday showing President Obama with a lead in the high single digits.
Obama led Mitt Romney 51%-43% among likely voters in the Marquette University Law School poll, a result that has now been stable for three months, according to the poll’s director, Charles Franklin. The Marquette poll very accurately forecast the results of last month’s recall election in which Republican Gov. Scott Walker retained his job.
Obama appears to be benefiting from one of the same dynamics that helped Walker – a sense among a significant group of Wisconsin voters that economic conditions in the state are getting better. Romney leads among people who say the economy has gotten worse over the past year, Franklin said, but that group is only one-third of the electorate. Obama leads among those voters who say the economy has gotten better or has stayed the same. Similarly, Obama leads, 66%-28% among those who expect to see improvement in the economy in the coming year, a group which makes up more than four in 10 Wisconsin voters.
The president also benefits from his personal popularity in the state. Obama and Romney are each seen unfavorably by 42% of the state’s voters. But 51% see Obama favorably, compared with 36% who see Romney favorably. The poll’s results for the presidential race have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
Separately, a Wisconsin poll by Public Policy Polling, a firm that polls primarily for Democrats, showed Obama with a 50%-44% lead over Romney.
Walker’s victory in the recall led to considerable talk of Wisconsin’s being in play in the November election. In 2008 Obama carried the state by a wide margin, but Wisconsin was among the closest states in the country in the 2004 election. So far, however, neither presidential campaign has spent money advertising in the state, and the new polls suggest that for now, they’re likely to focus their attention elsewhere.
But while the presidential campaign may not be as intense in Wisconsin as it will be across the border in Iowa or in Ohio, the state does seem headed for a very tight race for the U.S. Senate.
Republicans will hold a primary on Aug. 14 to choose a Senate nominee, and former Gov. Tommy Thompson now appears to be in a very close race with financier Eric Hovde, who has gained considerable ground in the last couple of months. Two other candidates, former Rep. Mark Neumann and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, lag further behind but are splitting some of the conservative, anti-Thompson vote, the polls indicate.
The Marquette poll had Thompson leading Hovde 35%-23%, a nine point gain for Hovde compared with the university’s poll last month. Neumann, at 10% and Fitzgerald, at 6%, had both lost ground since June. A quarter of likely primary voters remain undecided, the poll found. The poll’s results for the primary have a margin of error of +/- 4.8 percentage points.
The Democratic nominee, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, would be in a close race with either of the leading Republicans, the poll showed.
The PPP survey showed Hovde and Thompson tied, 31% for Hovde and 29% for Thompson, a result well within the poll’s margin of error of +/-4.1 percentage points.
A key factor in the primary now could be whether Neumann’s backers in the Club for Growth decide to put substantial resources behind him at the risk of splitting the conservative vote and giving Thompson the nomination. The club, a Washington-based group that advocates low taxes and minimal government regulation, was the main force behind the defeat of longtime Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in a primary battle this spring.
Another key factor, as always, will be the makeup of the electorate. Hovde leads the race among those who identify themselves as “very conservative,” according to the Marquette poll, and also does much better with supporters of the tea party. Thompson leads among those who identify themselves as “moderate” or “conservative” and among those who do not support the tea party.
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