MADISON, WI -- Wisconsin voters may play a pivotal role in the outcome of the presidential election, and Mitt Romney's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as a running mate has made the race in the Badger State much closer.
"In some state's you'd never know there's a presidential election this fall, but in Wisconsin we KNOW there's an election going," David Canon, a University of Wisconsin political scientist, told KARE.
"There are TV ads running all of the time now, and a fair number of visits to the state already for both campaigns."
He said Wisconsin was already up for grabs, but when Mitt Romney added a native son, Rep. Paul Ryan, to the ticket the state became even more competitive. Now the state is among just a handful of coveted swing states on the Electoral College map.
"That generated a lot of excitement in the state," Canon explained. "He's very well known, especially in the southern part of the state."
By August Romney had pulled to within five points of President Obama in Wisconsin polls. After Ryan joined the ticket the gap narrowed to a statistical dead heat.
"Historically vice presidents have added one to three points in their home states, so a couple of points bounce would be about what the historical average is," Charles Franklin, a U-W political scientist, told KARE.
Franklin has spent the past year working with the Marquette University Law School working on polls of the state, including some that have tracked support for Congressman Ryan.
"The thing that he does bring to the ticket is a net favorable rating," Franklin said. "More people view him favorably than unfavorably, whereas Mitt Romney in Wisconsin has struggled all year with more unfavorable than favorable ratings."
Romney won praise from conservatives for picking Ryan, who has floated several plans on Capitol Hill designed to reduce the national debt and shrink government. But Wisconsin's place on the electoral map makes the choice of Ryan a politically adroit move.
Ryan grew up in Janesville, a city of 60,000 in southern Wisconsin, and still lives there when he's not in Washington. The town was traditionally a Democratic stronghold, but is now part of a Congressional district that's more evenly divided.
Ryan has won there seven times, and is on the ballot again this fall. Wisconsin is one of the states that allows a presidential or vice presidential candidate to run for another office simultaneously.
"It's an urban, rural and suburban district so it's kind of a microcosm of America," Gov. Scott Walker told KARE.
"Paul Ryan took a district that's almost evenly split and he's won every year since he was first re-elected by over 60 percent of the vote," Walker said. "So he can pull in the independent voters."
Ryan created a stir during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, when he said President Obama broke a campaign pledge to save the General Motors assembly plant in Janesville.
Obama visited Janesville as a candidate in 2008, and said the federal government should keep plants like that one open. But GM decided later that year to close it, and the final GM SUV rolled off the assembly line in December of 2008, a month before Obama took office.
"To get on national TV and say Obama is the reason this plant closed, that he didn't try to save it? That's a joke!" retired auto worker Dot Dominy told KARE.
Dominy worked at the Janesville GM plant for 30 years, retiring in 2006. Her son graduated from nearby Joseph Craig High School with Paul Ryan, in the class of 1988.
"And everybody says 'I suppose you're really proud because of Paul Ryan'? I say, 'Proud? Proud because he lied?' No I'm not proud at all!"
Wisconsin, with its 10 electoral votes, has never been considered a major prize in a presidential election. But if you Romney were to pick up Wisconsin and combine it with a few other smaller swing states he could afford to win one of the larger states.
Ronald Reagan was the last Republican to capture Wisconsin, back in 1984. But you'd be hard pressed to call it a solid blue state. Al Gore won there in 2000 by only half a percentage point. In 2004, John Kerry took Wisconsin by roughly the same, slim margin.
In 2008 then-Senator Barack Obama won the Badger state handily, beating John McCain by 16 points. But only two years later the state turned back to red, when Republicans captured both houses of the legislature and the governor's office.
"I think that's what's to be tested by the campaigns," Franklin said. "Are you going to look more like 2008, or like 2010? Or are you going to look like 2004 and be decided by a hair's breadth?"
The GOP sweep plunged Wisconsin into bitter political turmoil last year when Gov. Walker and Republican lawmakers passed a budget bill that effectively stripped teachers and other public employees in the state of collective bargaining rights.
It culminated in a statewide recall election June 5th, aimed at unseating Walker. He survived with a six percent margin of victory over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
The experience left the state highly polarized, and gave the opposing camps a chance to test their ground games months ahead of the General Election.
"This could be a base election, where you're trying to get your people out to the polls to vote," Dave Canon said.
"And that's because Wisconsin's so polarized right now. They are not that many undecided voters in Wisconsin."
Exit polls during the recall election showed the same group of voters who chose to keep Walker in office also said they favored Obama over Romney by a seven point margin.
But the Wisconsin Republican Party is banking on the momentum that will carry over from that contest.
"The governor and that campaign helped build a tremendous legion of grassroots activists throughout the state and each and every one of them is still engaged today," Wisconsin GOP spokesman Nathan Conrad told KARE.
"Adding Congressman Ryan to the ticket will just build on top of the good momentum we had going here already."
The Obama campaign, however, is banking on voters who missed the recall election to show up in November.
"Consider that on June 5th campuses were out for the summer. It was very hard to organize and mobilize young people." Joe Zepecki, the Wisconsin Obama campaign spokesman told KARE.
"There will be also what are known as drop-off voters, who only vote in presidential contests. We'll see hundreds of thousands of them return in November."
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)