Last year, Wisconsin appeared ready to vote for a Democratic presidential nominee for the sixth consecutive election. Democratic candidates were defeating Republican candidates in most matchup polls and, in generic partisan matchups, Wisconsinites gave Democrats the edge by double digits in polls conducted in Spring 2007, Summer 2007, and as late as November 2007 (Badger Poll, WPR / St. Norbert College). However, Wisconsin is a classic battleground state and thus the numbers were bound to change with the political tides. And they have.
Once Republicans settled on John McCain to be their nominee, Wisconsin voters have seemed to rally around the Arizona Senator. McCain was once polling in the 30s when matched up against Hillary Clinton (Rasmussen, August 2007), but has gradually chipped away at her advantage in more than a half-dozen polls since: McCain polled at 40 percent against her in October 2007, 45 percent in November 2007, and 49 percent in December 2007 and January 2008 (Rasmussen, SurveyUSA). Two Rasmussen polls of likely Badger State voters conducted since McCain wrapped up the GOP nomination in late February and late March 2008 both show him with double-digit leads over Clinton, reaching the 50 percent mark in both surveys.
Barack Obama is more competitive against McCain than Clinton at the moment, though McCain did lead the junior Senator from Illinois by 48 to 46 percent (within the margin of error) in Rasmussen's late March poll.
The extended primary process has not been kind to Clinton in Wisconsin, and the already high unfavorable marks she had in the Badger State before announcing her candidacy (48 percent in July 2006, Rasmussen), have now climbed in recent months: to 51 percent in December 2007 and 58 percent in March 2008 (Rasmussen). Flirting with 60 percent unfavorable marks will not get you elected in any state.
Obama's unfavorability numbers were also bound to increase, as he was largely an unknown quantity to the average voter before the primary season began; they have increased in Wisconsin from 39 percent in December 2007 to 45 percent in March 2008 (Rasmussen). Still, a respectable 54 percent of Wisconsinites currently have a favorable rating of Obama.
McCain, however, has been a well-known and popular political figure in Wisconsin in recent years. And even though his favorability rating took an initial hit when he entered the 2008 race for the White House (dipping from 64 percent in July 2006 to 48 percent in August 2007, Rasmussen), this rating, unlike that of his Democratic challengers, has grown ever since: rising to 50 percent in October 2007 and 54 percent in March 2008 (Rasmussen). Perhaps more importantly, his unfavorability rating has remained constant: 45 percent in August 2007, 44 percent in October 2007, and 45 percent in March 2008 (Rasmussen).
Wisconsinites are not endeared by 'attack politics' and if McCain can stay above the fray—looking ever the more 'presidential' while his Democratic opponents beat each other up in the coming weeks—the Arizona Senator will be sitting in a good position to finally take back the Badger State for the Republicans come November.