KENOSHA, Wis -- Miles Tooher, a 65-year-old whose patio furniture business is going under in the conservative Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, thinks Republican Mitt Romney could help turn the economy around if he could win the presidency.
But hes skeptical that Paul Ryan, the young congressman from his own state who was named as Romneys running mate, is helping even in Wisconsin. Im not sure that was the best choice, Tooher said. Ryan is a little more radical than Romney.
Ryan hasnt been able to turn the state for Romney. President Barack Obama leads in Wisconsin, a swing state where the race was dead even just a few weeks ago. Thats despite a struggling economy that still could make the state open to changing course.
Boarded-up shops stand in the center of downtown Kenosha, a city where the late George Romney, the candidates father, once oversaw a major auto plant. The city now struggles with 10 percent unemployment. Its a scene found in other Wisconsin downtowns as well, including the faded center of Ryans hometown of Janesville, where the General Motors plant shut down in 2008 and recovery has been painfully slow.
Sixty-one-year-old retiree Joyce Sorensen of Kenosha reflected on the race as she walked near a red lighthouse standing sentinel over the Great Lakes shipping that once helped make the region an economic powerhouse. She hasnt decided whom to vote for, but she doesnt blame Obama for the economy.
Obama was handed something he had no control over, Sorensen said, the fall wind whipping off Lake Michigan and cutting through her light jacket. And nobody is working with him; Congress isnt working with him.
In Milwaukee, 40 miles north up the interstate, 28-year-old bartender Venessa Pena poured a Spotted Cow beer as Obama and Romney debated on the television behind her. Pena also hasnt decided whom to vote for. But she shrugged off suggestions that the president had blown the economy.
The mess of the economy that was created took eight years to create, and you cant fix it in four years, she said.
Thats a common sentiment in Wisconsin, said Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette Law School poll. He said more people in Wisconsin told the pollsters they were worse off now than they were when Obama took office four years ago than those who said they were better off now.
But when we ask who is more responsible for the current economic situation, 30 percent say Obama and 55 percent say George Bush, he said. The task for Romney in the last five weeks of the campaign will be to convince voters it really is Obamas fault.
Romney and his supporters are trying to do just. The pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future plans to spend $1.2 million on an ad in Wisconsin this week that hammers the president as creating a new normal of high unemployment and a bad economy. Its just the latest such ad to hit the Badger State, but Romney and Ryan nevertheless have watched the race in Wisconsin go from essentially tied three weeks ago to trailing by an average of nearly 7 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics.com.
Franklin attributed Obamas surge to a post-Democratic convention bounce and missteps by Romney, including his disparaging remarks about the 47 percent of Americans who dont pay income taxes.