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Wisconsin GOP star steers clear of Romney, Santorum

March 30, 2012|By Michael Finnegan
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker makes remarks to the news media after a meeting of the National Governors Assn. with President Obama at the White House.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker makes remarks to the news media after a meeting… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

Reporting from Milwaukee — As Mitt Romney launched his Wisconsin primary campaign on Friday in the Republican-rich Fox Valley, he was taking pains to be seen as the party's inevitable presidential nominee, starting with an endorsement by a controversial native son, Rep. Paul Ryan.

What's more striking in Wisconsin is the endorsement that Romney has not received -- that of Gov. Scott Walker.

The Republican governor, who surveys indicate is extremely popular with GOP primary voters, is facing a recall election, most likely in June. His clash with public employee unions has made him a national pariah to organized labor. The campaign to recall Walker has become so much of an obsession among Wisconsin residents that it has overshadowed Tuesday’s presidential primary.

Romney and his chief rival, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, have heaped praise on Walker, but the governor is conspicuously steering clear of both as they crisscross the state in the days ahead of the primary.

Ciara Matthews, communications director for Walker's campaign to survive the recall, said he would not endorse anyone in the presidential primary.

"He is plenty busy," she said.

So Romney’s Wisconsin star, for better or worse, is Ryan, whose budget plan passed the House on Thursday. Ryan announced his support of the former Massachusetts governor Friday morning on Fox News, and said he plans to campaign with the former Massachusetts governor on Friday.

Ryan's is the latest in a string of recent Republican establishment endorsements for Romney. Most notable: Former President George H.W. Bush; his son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

However popular Ryan may be with Wisconsin Republicans, his support comes with likely liabilities in the November general election. Democrats have denounced Ryan's budget as lavishing millionaires with tax cuts paid for by "ending Medicare as we know it," as White House spokesman Jay Carney put it on the Thursday -- the core of the case that President Obama’s reelection campaign is making against Romney.

The Democratic National Committee on Friday released a video on what it called the "bro-mance" between Ryan and Romney, replete with hand-holding to the tune of "That’s Amore."

Three independent polls this week have found Romney holding an edge over Santorum in Wisconsin. The most recent, released Friday morning by NBC News and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, found Romney with a 7-point lead.

But the Red, White and Blue Fund, a "super PAC" supporting Santorum, has been advertising heavily on local television in recent days, running a spot that trashes Romney's fiscal record in Massachusetts. (Romney and his allies, following the precedent they set in GOP contests scattered across the nation, are still far outspending Santorum's forces, mainly on attack ads.)

Looking ahead to the general election, the NBC/Marist survey included alarming news for Romney. In a matchup with Obama in Wisconsin, a White House battleground state, the president was leading Romney among registered voters, 52% to 35%.

On Friday, Santorum plans to make his way across rural western and central Wisconsin, with yet another round of bowling in his unabashedly overt campaign to be seen as more of a regular guy than his opponent. Romney's first stop is in Appleton on the Fox River, followed by a fish fry in Milwaukee.

Original source: Wisconsin's GOP star steers clear of Romney & Santorum

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