MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan swept across the Midwest on Sunday playing up his regional roots in a final bid to move must-win Ohio, Minnesota and his own home state of Wisconsin into the Republican column on Election Day.
It was the last chance for nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate to try to work political magic both regionally and ideologically for the Republican ticket. Ryan, a Janesville, Wis. congressman who chairs the House Budget Committee, energizes the conservative fans of his annual budget blueprints and is popular in Wisconsin, where Republicans have done well below the presidential level.
Ryan and his family joined the tailgate for the Green Bay Packers game outside the Sideline Sports Bar and Restaurant near Lambeau Field on Sunday morning. Clad in a Green Bay Packers jacket and matching tie, he was immediately surrounded by a crush of fans and reporters. Some of the excited bystanders wished him congratulations in advance.
“This is the longest stretch I’ve gone without hunting since I think I was 12 years old,” Ryan remarked to a fan, as he showed off his orange camouflage iPhone case. “Just a reminder that I’ll be in the woods pretty soon,” he said.
Ryan had by his side Wisconsin’s top GOP officials, including Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Reid Ribble, as well as Romney sons Josh and Matt. It was Ryan’s sixth appearance in his home state in the past week.
But even with a native on the ticket, Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes are still not in the bag for the GOP. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted Oct. 28-29 showed President Obama ahead of Romney by 3 percentage points. An Oct. 25-28 survey by Marquette University Law School gave the president an 8-point lead, 51 percent to 43 percent.
At his stop in Mansfield, Ryan contended that Obama has failed to revive the economy. “It doesn’t have to be like this. We don’t have to settle for this. This may be the best that President Obama can do but it is not the best America can do,” he said.
It’s a tricky argument in Ohio, which has fared better than the national economy. Republican state officials say that’s because their policies that have worked, but Obama – who has a slim lead in polls of Ohio -- gets credit from most in the state for saving the auto industry with a bailout Romney opposed.
As evidence that Mansfield is still suffering, Ryan mentioned the GM Fisher Body Stamping Plant that closed in 2009 – just like a shuttered plant in his hometown of Janesville.
In Minnesota on Sunday, GOP hopes that the state can be flipped red were kept alive when Ryan drew his largest solo crowd to date -- over 6,000 people, according to an estimate from the campaign -- during an airport rally in Minneapolis in the afternoon.
"We could use your help, Minnesota, how about it, what do you say?," Ryan said as he told stories of a summer job driving the Oscar Meyer truck in northern Minnesota and fishing in the state's lakes. "Even Vikings fans and Packers fans can lie down together for this country. Coming together. We can bridge our differences," he said, in reference to the state's two NFL football teams.
Republicans began eyeing Minnesota more seriously after the Obama campaign began running ads there in recent days, ostensibly to help reach voters on the Wisconsin border. The race heated up after Ryan dined in St. Paul with his wife, Janna, last week, and then held a full-blown rally. Former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to hold a rally on behalf of the Obama campaign in St. Cloud Sunday evening.
A Minneapolis Star-Tribune/Mason Dixon poll showed Obama up by 3 percentage pionts in the state, which is within the survey's margin of error. Other, automated polls, however, show the president with a lead in the high single digits.