National campaigns move fast to set up shop in Badger State

Ben Jones — Post-Crescent Madison bureau chief

MADISON – Buses stalled and schools closed Wednesday as a blizzard buried much of southern Wisconsin, but there was no snow day for presidential campaigns seeking Wisconsin’s delegates in the Feb. 19 primary.Super Tuesday’s results leave the presidential nomination race well in play, particularly for the two Democratic contenders, and Wisconsin suddenly carries a great deal of weight in the tight race between Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.??”They have (to ramp up) all of a sudden,” said Wendy Scattergood, an assistant professor of political science at St. Norbert College in De Pere. “It’s going to be a whirlwind tour. The grassroots has to be on the ground and running right away now.”??The Republican race likely won’t be as intense in Wisconsin, mainly because John McCain cemented his spot as his party’s front-runner over rivals Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, though McCain still is well short of the delegates needed to seal the nomination.??Some 37 states will have held votes before Wisconsin, including a Feb. 12 “Potomac primary” in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., so not many political observers expected this state to matter so much. ??Most of the campaigns haven’t opened Wisconsin offices. Obama’s campaign recently set up shop in a corner office carved out of a Madison laundromat. Young staffers worked there Tuesday below a map of Wisconsin and a black-and-white poster of the candidate that read “Change we can believe in.”??Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, a veteran of statewide campaigns, called the tight timeframe “a very big challenge.”??”These are such compressed campaigns,” he said. “On the other hand, there is such incredible national attention being paid to it that it’s not like we have to wake people up to the fact that there’s a presidential primary coming.”??Doyle backs Obama in the race and is campaigning for the candidate. Snow forced cancellation of two events Wednesday but Doyle planned to lead Obama organizing drives today. ??Though Wisconsin is dwarfed by states like California and Texas, it’s no Rhode Island. It’s challenging terrain for campaigns that have just days to get their messages out. In square miles, Wisconsin is larger than England. It has several media markets and 112,000 miles of roads, many now covered in snow. The state has more than 5.3 million residents. ??It also has one popular pro football team that’s popular to mention in campaign speeches.??For the campaigns, all of these details matter, but what matters most are Wisconsin’s delegates; Wisconsin voters will help select 92 Democratic delegates and 40 Republican delegates.??”The delegates mean everything right now and the candidates know it,” said Joe Heim, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.??Parties in Wisconsin distribute a large portion of delegates based on the vote in each of the state’s eight congressional districts, and Heim expects the candidates to fan out to cities around the state to hit those districts.??”I would be shocked if they didn’t,” Heim said.??Radio and television advertising campaigns will soon inundate Wisconsin residents. Obama’s campaign announced its first Wisconsin television and radio ad buys Wednesday. Heim said he expected substantial campaign advertising to come.??Scattergood said Wisconsin’s primary races could be close and the state could be a “bellwether” state.??”Wisconsin has a pretty good chunk of truly independent (voters),” Scattergood said. “They are in the center; they go back and forth. ??”We know that those people are appealing to both McCain and Obama and, as we have an open primary where those independents can vote in either of the primaries, it will be very interesting to see how that plays out.”??Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said he doesn’t have a good feel for how big a role Wisconsin will play for GOP candidates.??”We’re not sure yet, whether they will spend an extensive amount of time in Wisconsin or just make a few appearances. We will see. But it’s a little different dynamic than the Democrats. Here there’s a presumptive front-runner (McCain).”??Romney spokeswoman Sarah Pompei said Wednesday the Republican race is still fluid. In Wisconsin, she said, Romney’s campaign has “a strong grassroots operation on the ground.”??”Gov. Romney is going to continue working hard for every vote up to Election Day, talking to Wisconsin voters about his plan to strengthen the economy and bring real conservative change to Washington,” she said.??Joe Wineke, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said he expects a lot of activity from the Democratic candidates, although he knows of nothing scheduled.??He said he heard Clinton’s campaign was deploying 32 field staff to Wisconsin on Wednesday.??”I fully expect sometime in the next few days, you’ll see Obama or Clinton land in the state for the first time, and I think you’ll see both of them several times in the next two weeks,” he said.
Ben Jones: 608-255-9256, or