When Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan tailgated with Green Bay Packer fans at Lambeau field on Sunday, he was campaigning in the epicenter of what may be a key swing region in a key swing state. Green Bay lies in what locals call the Fox Valley or Fox River Valley, a region heavily populated with white working class men who are neither reliably Republican, nor reliably Democratic.
"These are counties that went for Bush in 2004, for Obama in 2008, they went for Governor Scott Walker in 2010, and so well see on Tuesday whether they go for Obama or Romney in this election season," says Amber Wichowsky, a political scientist at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Democratic State Senator Jon Erpenbach says the eyes of political Wisconsin will be glued to that region on Tuesday night. "The president doesn't necessarily have to win the Fox Valley but he has to do pretty well there."
Wisconsin political operative Mark Graul is more specific. "These are areas that Mitt Romney is going to have to not just win but win somewhere around 55 percent of the vote in order to carry the state."
Analysts describe the swing state of Wisconsin as an anathema - a state where both President Obama and Republican Governor Scott Walker enjoy favorability ratings above 50 percent. That seeming political dissonance may be best explained by Wisconsin's relative economic health through the recession. It has an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent - more than half a percentage point below the national average. But more importantly, its comparatively stable housing market spared Wisconsin from the foreclosure crisis that decimated many other states.
The Real Clear Politics Average of recent polls in Wisconsin puts President Obama up 4.2 points over Governor Mitt Romney, a margin that qualifies as "toss-up" status. But a Marquette University poll that ended in late October put President Obama up by a much greater margin - 8 points. Marquette political scientist Amber Wichowsky proudly points to the fact that Marquette's polling methodology correctly predicted Governor Scott Walker's win in last June's recall election. But in the Presidential poll, she admits to a bit of a wild card.
"When we look more closely at likely voters who follow politics more closely, really engaged in politics, Obama's lead shrinks to 2, suggesting that the democrats have a bit of a get-out-the-vote effort to do in this state," she says.
Indeed, the Republican ground game during the Walker recall effort may pay off again in the Presidential election. "Certainly, the Walker recall is the built-in infrastructure, the get-out-the-vote effort that I think will decide this election one way or the other. I think Governor Romney is certainly benefitting greatly from that and from what the Walker team built from that June recall," says Graul.
Yet Democrats also claim to have benefitted from the recall, developing the very same kind of ground game that Walkers forces successfully summoned in the recall effort.
The outcome in Wisconsin, as in so many other battleground states, may hinge on which party inspires more voters to show up on Tuesday.