MILWAUKEE -- With the race between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke virtually tied a week before Election Day, President Obama’s visit here Tuesday could help tip the scales in a contest almost certain to be decided by a handful of votes.
Obama appearED with Burke in a predominantly African-American ward that he carried in 2012 with 99% of the vote. His visit caps off a series of campaign stops by other major Democratic figures, including Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton who campaigned for Burke in Milwaukee earlier this month.
The Wisconsin governor's race is one of the closest in the country, and a victory for Burke would signal a popular rebuke of the confrontational approach that made Walker famous in 2011, when he effectively ended collective bargaining rights for public sector unions in the state. That move led to massive protests and a failed recall attempt, but after one term under Walker, Wisconsin is still lagging behind many states in the midwest in job creation and economic growth.
Polls show Burke and Walker in a dead heat at approximately 47% apiece -- about where the race has been since April. With only a week left, campaign efforts must shift towards rallying base voters even as conversations continue about converting independents.
Obama’s approval ratings have dropped in Wisconsin as they have in the rest of the country, and there is still a chance that some voters might balk at his presence. But no Democrat can win without heavy turnout in the state’s largest city, and with only about 4% of voters still undecided, the decision to focus on driving turnout in Milwaukee by bringing in the President is undeniably a risk.
In an interview with msnbc, Burke maintained that Obama is still popular enough in the state to energize voters outside of the most heavily Democratic areas. “Increasing awareness, making sure people know that their voice is important and their vote really counts and is meaningful is great, and the fact is that the president is popular among many people in Wisconsin,” she said.
Obama’s statewide approval rating is currently at 46%. In 2012, Obama carried the state by seven points only months after Walker handily defeated a recall attempt. Recent polls conducted by the Marquette Law School show strong support for the president among groups that tend to favor Democrats, with an 84% approval rating among African-Americans, and 64% among Milwaukee residents.
Despite Obama’s diminished standing, the attention surrounding his appearance has given Democrats the chance to draw attention to the current voting landscape, which has been a source of confusion thanks to a voter ID law that would have left hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters without acceptable identification on Election Day. The Supreme Court earlier this month temporarily blocked the law from going into effect.
While Democrats typically take advantage of early voting more than Republicans do, Walker’s campaign has also encouraged his supporters to cast their ballots before November 4 although they will have less time to vote than in past elections. Walker signed legislation in March that broadly curtailed early voting; it is no longer possible to vote after 7 pm or on weekends.
The state’s early voting period lasts from October 20 through October 31, and as of last Friday, more than 146,000 ballots had been cast. Reports from county clerks indicate that these numbers are already outpacing 2010 in spite of the shorter voting hours. If the same number cast ballots in person this week, turnout will be almost even with the 2012 recall numbers.
Campaign finance records released Monday showed that Walker's campaign raised $10 million in the last three months, bringing his total to $25 million, while Burke has contributed $5 million of her own money and raised $10 million since entering the race late last year. Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a patron of conservative causes and candidates, contributed $650,000 to the state Republican party.