Romney’s visit to Janesville holds national significance
The Republican Party has wasted no time in capitalizing on Gov. Scott Walker’s notable triumph in surviving a special recall election. Republican presidential nominee-to-be Mitt Romney’s visit to Janesville this week highlights the significance of that victory, while seeking to capture and reinforce the resulting media momentum.
Romney was accompanied by Janesville Congressman Paul Ryan, along with other Republican leaders, including U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Walker. The governor underscored his recent win by noting that “it is my honor” to continue as chief executive of the state.
Wisconsin has not voted for a Republican presidential nominee since President Ronald Reagan took the state in 1984, but Walker’s win just might provide leverage to reverse that. Opinion polls show the state is now in play, after consistently showing an edge for President Barack Obama in the past. Obama carried Wisconsin by 14 percent of the vote in 2008.
The Janesville rally was at Monterey Mills, a textile firm in a state where manufacturing output remains strong but jobs have been declining. Closure of Janesville’s General Motors plant was particularly significant, and local unemployment reached 16 percent. The rate declined to 9 percent in April, still above the state jobless rate of 6.7 percent.
The statewide unemployment rate is notably below the national average. Walker understandably underscored this, while crediting the policies passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.
Republicans outspent Democrats in the recall election by at least seven to one, and the Romney campaign has begun to edge out the Obama campaign in total funds raised. The 2011 Citizens United decision of the U.S. Supreme Court removed limitations on corporations and other interest groups regarding how much can be spent for political purposes.
Walker demonstrated particular strength in the Milwaukee suburbs, gaining majorities of from 70 percent to 75 percent. Presidential elections increasingly are decided in suburban battlegrounds, not urban or rural areas.
By 1960, a plurality of the U.S. electorate was in the suburbs, and by 1992 this had become a majority. Democrats John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, elected to the White House in those respective elections, each demonstrated strong appeal to suburban voters.
Obama has given sustained attention to Wisconsin. In February he came to the state to highlight the importance of manufacturing and visited a Master Lock plant in Milwaukee.
In January 2011, the president visited Orion Energy Systems north of Milwaukee the day after his State of the Union speech. In July 2010, he held a lively town hall meeting in Racine, an area with long-term economic problems.
Wisconsin can count on seeing a lot more of both leaders in coming weeks.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen distinguished professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” He can be reached at email@example.com.