Five reasons why Mitt Romney will lose Wisconsin

Greetings, readers. I’m back from vacation, rested, ready, and reasonably free of existential angst. We stayed home, and I didn’t do a whole lot other than dine out, veg out, and complete some very urgent, long-ignored tasks that I’ve been meaning to get to.

For instance, on day one of my vacation, I went to Jim’s Coins and Stamps first thing in the morning, stood outside the shop, and spent the better part of an hour singing “Jim’s Coins at Hilldale” over and over again just to see how they like it. Then, triumphant, I sallied over to The Great Dane for a pint and a hummus plate. The perfect day.

Unfortunately, I was similarly preoccupied on Monday of last week when Mitt Romney traveled to Wisconsin to try to score a contact high off the smoldering ruins of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, which has, in the weeks since the June 5 recall election, been walking around like that stunned soldier looking for his arm in the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan.

Romney spoke in Janesville at a textile company accompanied by Scott Walker, who is now the darling of the right because he managed to defeat Tom Barrett for the second time by outspending the Milwaukee governor by a grotesque margin, which is a little like devising an elaborate six-man heist to steal Ambien from your grandfather. This makes him a superstar?

Anyway, sour grapes aside, Republicans are now more confident than ever that Romney can wrest Wisconsin away from Barack Obama in November and place our 10 electoral votes in the GOP column. (A recent Rasmussen poll gives Romney a slight 47% to 44% edge over the president, the first lead Mitt has managed thus far.)

I don’t see it happening, though, and here’s why:

1. History: Until the trend is broken, Wisconsin is still a blue state when it comes to presidential politics. Our state has not gone to a Republican since 1984, when Ronald Reagan rolled to an easy victory over Walter Mondale, who consistently came off as a slightly less ebullient Droopy Dog. Despite winning the presidency twice, George W. Bush never took Wisconsin, and even Michael Dukakis eked out a win in ’88 while getting thumped nationally by George H.W. Bush. In fact, in the 1988 election, Wisconsin accounted for nearly 10% of Dukakis’ final electoral vote count. (If we’ve done nothing else worthwhile, Wisconsinites have consistently said no to Bushes. Imagine how much better off we’d be today if the rest of the country had had as much sense.)

2. Buyer’s remorse: Walker’s riding high now after winning a recall election that many of the state’s voters were philosophically opposed to, but there’s no guarantee that his campaign can transfer any of its momentum to Romney. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence that Walker is just an empty suit.

During Romney’s Wisconsin appearance, Walker introduced the former Massachusetts governor, saying, “We were able to show here in Wisconsin that you can turn things around. We’ve turned things around in Wisconsin. It’s time to elect a leader who can turn things around for America.”

The meme that Republicans and their confederates are trying to advance is that Wisconsin is on the right track economically thanks to Walker’s austerity measures while Obama is leading the nation down a primrose path to ruin.

The numbers simply don’t support this narrative, however.

By pretty much any measure, Walker has been a lousy job creator. He’s not a total screw-up, of course. Indeed, the one thing he’s been spectacularly good at is convincing a large number of people that he doesn’t suck at his job. (In that respect, however, he’s really no different than Keanu Reeves or Carrot Top.)

Prior to the recall election, Kevin McGee, an economics professor at UW-Oshkosh, and Marc V. Levine, founding director of the Center for Economic Development at UW-Milwaukee, wrote editorials for the Oshkosh Northwestern and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, respectively.

They concluded that if Keanu Reeves and Carrot Top had a love child and it started making economic policy decisions for the state of Wisconsin, it would do a far better job than Scott Walker. (And there’d be amusing props to boot.)

Remember those revised job numbers Walker proudly presented to the residents of Wisconsin like a dog bringing a decomposing squirrel head to its master?

Wrote McGee: “… by [Walker’s] preferred QC numbers, Wisconsin gained substantially fewer jobs under Walker than in the rest of the Midwest or the rest of the country, gained substantially fewer jobs under Walker than in the previous year under Doyle, and in fact lost jobs from June through December. By Walker’s preferred numbers, he is at best a D+ job creator.”

And Levine’s take? “… under Walker, Wisconsin’s employment record has diverged, in a negative way, from national trends and, more than ever, lags the national economy.”

The most amusing analysis, however, comes from blogger Jon Peacock of the Wisconsin Budget Project. He notes that Walker’s preferred numbers, which have conservatives peeing their pantaloons with joy, are almost exactly as good as the recent tepid national numbers, which have conservatives peeing their pantaloons with rage.

Says Peacock, “Analyzing the figures that Governor Walker says we should be using, it turns out that the growth rate Wisconsin achieved last year (when most other states were doing considerably better) is the same as the percentage increase nationally during the ‘spring swoon.’”

So why are conservatives holding up Walker’s performance as exemplary while panning Obama’s performance when it’s the exact same performance (at least in recent months)?

Well, because Obama’s a socialist, and Walker is not.

3. Money: Romney won’t have a huge spending advantage over Obama like Walker had over Barrett.

While the claims of some progressives that Walker outspent Barrett 10-to-1 or 7-to-1 were extremely misleading (because of spending done on behalf of the candidates by outside groups), Walker did have a considerable monetary advantage. One estimate put Walker’s advantage at 3-to-1, which is depressing enough without having to embellish it.

Because of a peculiarity in Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws, Walker was able to raise unlimited funds for months, while Barrett had to scramble to build his war chest. While it’s possible Obama will be outspent in the end, any financial disadvantage will be minuscule compared to what Barrett faced. And Wisconsin should be hard-fought until the final whistle, so Obama is likely to dish it out as much as he takes it.

4. We’re barely underway: At some point, Romney’s bound to visit Wisconsin and say something weirdly out of touch. (My best guess: How ’bout that gritty cheese?)

While the aforementioned Rasmussen poll was a watershed moment for Romney in Wisconsin, his support could wax and wane several times before the election. For example, a Marquette Law School poll, which came out after the Rasmussen poll, indicated that Obama still had the edge.

5. Romney baptizes dead people, and other stories: In 2008, candidate Obama had a well-publicized pastor problem. Fortunately for him, he was able to jettison Jeremiah Wright and move on with his campaign. Romney doesn’t have this option because the pastor causing his pastor problem is him. Romney has successfully parted ways with liberal Romney, RomneyCare Romney, and trying-to-keep-up-with-crazy-Rick-Santorum’s-pre-Renaissance-conservatism Romney, but can you really get the stink of a dead-person baptism off you?

Then there’s the story about Bishop Romney trying to block a mother’s decision to have a lifesaving abortion, allegedly asking the woman, “Why do you get off easy?”

Republicans are quick to point out these days that progressives need to learn the lessons of the Great Recall Debacle. One of the lessons they may be overlooking, however, is that the pendulum always swings, and that the public has a short memory.

Don’t count on Romney taking those 10 electoral votes just yet. In fact, I’d be willing to bet a pilsner or a porter that he’ll fall flat in the end.

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