Zooming in on Paul Ryan's Homestate of Wisconsin, a 'Forgotten' Swing State

GWEN IFILL: Well, Paul Ryan's swift rise has shined a new spotlight on Wisconsin.

We turn to Hari Sreenivasan at the Map Center for a closer look at the politics of the Badger State.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We're taking a look at the story of battleground states through the data that you can find on our website.

With me now is Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg Political Report and Roll Call.

Thanks for being with us.

NATHAN GONZALES, The Rothenberg Political Report: My pleasure.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, so, so much talk about Paul Ryan and his impact on the overall campaign. When we take a look at our electoral calculator here, and we want to try to figure out which way the election is going to go, the yellow states are the Associated Press' predictions on what they think are battleground states, and you say we should make Wisconsin yellow. Why?

NATHAN GONZALES: Well, at The Rothenberg Political Report, we have had Wisconsin firmly as one of eight swing states for at least the last six months, and I think it's for a couple of different reasons. One is that this is a forgotten swing state.

In 2000, we were talking about Florida, the recount, very close, but in Wisconsin the race was decided by less than a percentage point. Four years later, another close presidential race, we were concerned about Ohio, but Wisconsin, again, less than a percentage point.

And so fast-forward to today and I think that this is setting up to be a very competitive battleground state, and particularly when you add Paul Ryan on the ballot. Then you add the polarization. This is one of the most polarized states in the country, particularly with the recall election of Scott Walker.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. We have had this long-term project called Listen to Me where we hear from voters on what their most important issues are and also a question on whether they think the political system is broken. Here are a couple of those answers from Wisconsin.

KATHY PHILBRICK, Wisconsin: I like to be positive, but our country is very divided, and it is hard to see how we could possibly unite when we have very conflicting views that don't find a lot of common ground on a regular basis.

HEATHER LYNCH, Wisconsin: I feel like coming out with that perspective that there's no compromise. Like, within our little microcosm of Madison and in big government, I just feel like no one is willing to compromise, which is the only thing that's going to move us forward.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. Let's take a look at the 2008 presidential results. Pretty easy to see here whatever went blue went for President Obama, whatever went red went for John McCain. And this is a fairly blue outcome.

NATHAN GONZALES: I think those voters expressed a lot of the sentiment the voters across the Upper Midwest and even the country thought at the time, in that the economy was sagging. The voters didn't like the partisanship. They didn't like the direction of the country and they were ready for a change.

And in 2008, Barack Obama was the one who captured that sentiment for change. And that's why you see a normally competitive state have so much blue on it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. Well, we just fast-forward now to the recall results, Scott Walker with 53 percent. You see an overwhelming number of these counties are red now.

NATHAN GONZALES: Even though almost four years separated those two elections, a lot of the same dynamics were in play.

You had a sagging economy, people upset with the polarization and partisanship. And they were willing to give Republicans or continue to give Republicans and Governor Walker a chance of power in Wisconsin.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. Let's talk a little bit about the Ryan factor here. He's been an incredibly strong candidate for the last six, seven cycles.

NATHAN GONZALES: So Congressman Ryan down in the southern part of Wisconsin, he just hasn't had a competitive race. Even though the district is competitive, Democrats haven't done a good job of recruiting a good candidate against him.

But now that he's part of the national ticket, it just adds to the intensity of the election and the focus on Wisconsin.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Nathan Gonzales from The Rothenberg Political Report and Roll Call, thanks so much for joining us.


HARI SREENIVASAN: And a quick reminder. If you're at home and if you want to try this yourself, you can on your desktop or your tablet or even your phone. It's at NewsHour.PBS.org.