MILWAUKEE—President Barack Obama visited Wisconsin for the first time in seven months Saturday, moving to head off a possible last-minute surge of support for his opponent Mitt Romney in this pivotal swing state.
Appearing before several thousand rain-soaked but cheering supporters, Obama argued Romney's policies wouldn't make things better for the middle class. And he took a shot at his GOP rival's tax policies—arguing a day after the GOP candidate released his tax returns that he and other upper income Americans can afford to pay more.
"I can afford to pay a little bit more," Obama said. "And Mitt Romney sure can afford to pay a little more."
It was Obama's first visit to this pivotal swing state since February and came as polls show the race tightening in the state. While Obama won the state by 14 points in 2008, a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released last week found Obama with just 7-point lead over Romney, who saw a boost in support when he picked popular native son, Rep. Paul Ryan, to be his running mate.
In recent weeks, the Romney campaign has started advertising in the state—running ads attacking Obama's record on trade and China as a move to make in-roads in state where the manufacturing industry has been hard hit by the struggling economy. Ahead of the president's visit, the Romney campaign talked up what it described as Obama's "Wisconsin problem"—citing as proof Obama's decision to visit a state that should be comfortably Democrat.
But Obama advisers immediately downplayed the suggestion the campaign is worried about Wisconsin.
""We're going to run here, like in any battleground states, like we're five points behind until Election Day," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
But Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, who made the 90-minute drive from Chicago to see his boss, acknowledged that Romney is "stronger" than John McCain was in the state in 2008, in part because of Republican organizing efforts around the recall election of GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
"Because of the recall election, they test drove their car whereas in other states they haven't. It would make sense they are strong here, as are we," Messina said. "They are stronger than McCain was in '08, no question, on the ground."
But the Obama campaign, Messina insisted, continues to have a "strategic advantage" because of more field offices and infrastructure.
While the Romney campaign has touted national polls in recent days showing a tie between their candidate and Obama, Messina touted polls in individual battleground states.
"We're either tied or in the lead in every battleground state 45 days out. I think you will see a tightening in the national polls going forward. What I care way more about is Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Wisconsin, etc," Messina said. "In those states, I feel our pathways to victory are there. There are two different campaigns, one in the battlegrounds and one everywhere else. That's why the national polls aren't relevant to this campaign."
Several thousand people lined up for hours to see Obama at an outdoor pavilion located along Lake Michigan on what was an unusually chilly fall day. "I can't feel my feet," a local pastor confessed as he took the stage before Obama to deliver the opening invocation.
As Obama spoke, the wind picked up and it began to rain—heavily at times—prompting some to head for the exists. But the president, who took the stage sans jacket, urged supporters to stick it out.
"I know we're getting a little wet," Obama said. "But that's okay. A little rain never hurt anybody."
Amid claims from Romney that Obama has failed to turn the economy around, Obama acknowledged he hadn't yet accomplished all he had set out to do as president and urged supporters to help him win another term to finish the job.
"It's going to take a few years to solve challenges," Obama said.
And for the third day in a row, he took a shot at Romney's suggestion in a secret video leaked this week that Obama supporters—which the GOP candidate estimated to be about 47 percent of the country—had a "victim" mentality and are dependent on government handouts.
"I don't see a lot of victims here today," Obama said. "I see a lot of hardworking Wisconsinites."