Onslaught of political activity hits state; Obama event kicks off week of rallies before primary

Ben Jones — Post Crescent Madison Bureau Chief

Onslaught of political activity hits state; Obama event kicks off week of rallies before primaryMADISON – The road to the White House this week runs through places like Appleton, Green Bay and Oshkosh as campaigns fight for Wisconsin.
The sprint for the state’s Feb. 19 primary started Tuesday night as the so-called Potomac primaries (District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia) concluded.
That places Wisconsin and Hawaii as the next prizes in the sights of Democratic candidates who are neck and neck in a delegate race. Northeast Wisconsin will be pivotal in the fight for the state’s delegates.
Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois launched the last push of his primary campaigning here with a massive rally Tuesday night at the Kohl Center.
A packed crowd of about 20,000 people filled the arena, spilled into an overflow room and out to the cold outside. The crowd’s cheers were nearly deafening.
“Tonight we are on our way but we know how much further we have to go,” Obama said. “It takes more than one night, or even one election, to overcome decades of money and influence, of bitter partisanship and petty bickering that shut you out, let you down, told you to settle.
“We know our road will not be easy. But we also know, at this moment, the cynics can no longer say our hope is false.”
All the major candidates have Wisconsin campaign events in coming days with candidate appearances and events led by key surrogates.
“This is going to be a great week for Wisconsin voters,” Gov. Jim Doyle, an Obama supporter, said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. “Once again our state is going to be in a position to play a very pivotal role.”
In the Republican race, Arizona Sen. John McCain leads former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee by such a wide margin that it’s nearly impossible for Huckabee to win, although both campaigns are active in Wisconsin. The Democratic race is much closer between Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and both campaigns are launching a major effort.
“For the Democrats, really every delegate counts,” said Wendy Scattergood, an assistant professor of political science at St. Norbert College in De Pere. “We have some big states to go . but it could be close. Wisconsin could make the difference.”
Carly Lindauer, Clinton’s Wisconsin spokeswoman, said the Clinton campaign is proud of the work it’s doing in the state and is going to continue working hard.
“(Wisconsin) is important to us,” Lindauer said. “We are aware that there may be certain advantages for Sen. Obama here, but we are going to continue working as hard as we can to share Sen. Clinton’s message with voters across the state.”
David Plouffe, Obama’s national campaign manager, said Wisconsin is a major battleground. He said the campaign will be spending “a good amount of time” in Wisconsin before the primary here.
“If you were to pick a general election battleground state, of all the states, Wisconsin may be the best example. It has had extraordinarily close contests. . We think it is the kind of state Barack Obama would do very well in next November.”
David Siemers, associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, said Wisconsin is a “significant prize” because it’s essentially alone on Feb. 19.
“We’re poised to matter quite a bit here. We are the last prize going into Ohio and Texas.”
Siemers said an Obama win could add to his momentum and make it harder for Clinton to win upcoming states. Conversely, a Clinton win could demonstrate she still can win the nomination.
“It’s going to be one solid, concentrated week where we are the Iowa in the room,” Siemers said.
Ben Jones: 608-255-9256 or bjones@postcrescent.com