Romney Hopes for Victory in Wisconsin Primary
Well-traveled routes that serve as Wisconsin's vital arteries also provide a window into the competing hopes for Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
Romney can roll up a solid win in Tuesday's presidential primary with a strong showing along the state's east-west Interstate 94, which bisects Milwaukee's GOP-rich western suburbs.
Santorum's fading hopes rest on swamping Romney in cities and towns along north-south Interstate 43, which lead from Milwaukee north through the industrial and blue-collar base of the Fox River Valley.
Wisconsin elections officials are projecting 35 percent of Wisconsin's 3.27 million voters will participate in Tuesday's primary. A large majority of the vote will come from Wisconsin's metropolitan southeast corner and industrial Fox Valley north to Green Bay.
"While you might achieve a victory margin in other places around the state, the percent contribution to the total vote goal, there's just not a lot of numbers there," said Brandon Scholz, a consultant and former executive director of the state Republican Party.
The dynamic favors Romney, whose appeal in the suburbs in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois helped him win those Midwestern primaries this year. Meanwhile, Santorum, who had campaigned aggressively last week in less populous northern and western Wisconsin, planned to return to his home state, Pennsylvania, Monday, all but conceding the state where Romney leads in polls.
Stretches of both I-94 and I-43 also promise to be key general election battlegrounds. The four congressional districts that cover them are represented by Republicans in Congress. Then-candidate Barack Obama carried the districts narrowly in winning the state easily in 2008, while George W. Bush carried them more easily in his narrow loss of the state in his 2004 re-election bid.
More than Romney, Santorum has ventured away from the suburbs nearest Milwaukee. He was heavily working the upper stretch of the I-43 corridor Sunday, with stops in seven cities including Green Bay, Appleton and Oshkosh.
The former Pennsylvania senator, who previously represented the Pittsburgh area in the U.S. House, was working hard to come off as a common man. He tossed a few frames at bowling alleys, swilled beer and stopped in at a Friday night fish fry, a tradition in restaurants and taverns all over the state.
And he's talked a lot about his "Made in America" ideas for reviving the nation's manufacturing sector, which would seem to resonate in a state that's home to motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson, plumbing fixture company Kohler and Mercury Marine outboard motors, and dozens of other high-skill, precision manufacturers.
The Fox Valley also is home to the highest concentration of the world's paper manufacturing, good for 10 percent of the employment in and around 16 cities along the river, including Appleton. This blue-collar influence mixes with a conservative evangelical element evident in the anti-abortion billboards that mark the I-43 corridor.
But interviews with voters in these pockets revealed doubts about whether it's paying off in a nomination race Republicans are increasingly interested in winding down and setting up the battle with President Obama.
Retired sales executive Tom Siewert of Fond du Lac said he's voting for Romney because he thinks it's time for Republicans to focus on November even if it's not the ideal pick for the party. And despite his effort to portray himself as the outsider against the well-funded establishment Republican Romney, Santorum's Washington past is a liability for some voters.