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Thursday, March 5, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Fair
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Mitt Romney poses as a moderate to win in Wisconsin
Etch-a-Sketch in an evenly divided state

Both presidential candidates canceled their campaign appearances in Wisconsin this week, as Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast. President Obama stopped campaigning and raising money, directing potential donors to his website to give their money to the Red Cross and staying on the job to oversee emergency relief for the people in Sandy's path.

Gov. Romney kept up the fundraising calls but suspended campaigning to make presidential-sounding statements about how we all have to pull together. He also reversed himself on the position he took back in June, during a primary debate, when he said he would eliminate the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

States, not the federal government, should handle disaster relief, Romney said in June, because "we cannot afford to do those things." It turns out, Romney's campaign clarified this week, as Sandy made landfall, that Mitt wants FEMA to work with state-level first responders, who are in the best position to assess damage and local needs. Coincidentally, that is exactly how the system works now.

But the fact that the candidates have been diverted by Frankenstorm from their Midwestern swing does not mean we won't be seeing them here in Wisconsin.

With the polls in a dead heat, the most expensive Senate race in state history powering into its final few days, and millions of dollars pouring into Wisconsin from both sides of the presidential race, you can't get away from the TV ads, the YouTube ads, the radio ads and your phone ringing off the hook with robocalls.

The Obama team is hoping early voting will help the president. Better hurry, though. Republicans in the state Legislature curtailed our early vote, so you have to cast your ballot by Friday, Nov. 2, or miss your chance to vote before Election Day.

And the Republicans got a better jump on early voting than Democrats, with more votes turning out on day one in conservative Waukesha County than in liberal Dane County.

No doubt about it, it's going to be tight.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told Politico last week that early voting and same-day registration will help Obama win Wisconsin, where the latest Rasmussen polls shows the president tied with Mitt Romney 49-49. Romney's political director, Rich Beeson, had his own take in Politico's Playbook on how Romney will win this historically blue state. The Romney campaign predicts that Paul Ryan will "peel off blue-collar Democratic votes" (memo to campaign: Have you talked to any autoworkers in Janesville lately?). Beeson goes on to say, "We're going to run better in Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay than Republicans normally run."

Why? Because of the Etch-a-Sketch strategy!

"In the primary, we were called the 'Massachusetts moderate,'" Beeson notes. "[That's helpful in Wisconsin's] urban and even close-in suburban areas.... Same thing in Madison, Green Bay and Milwaukee...that's where we won the Wisconsin primary.... Romney runs better in those urban areas than the Republican presidential candidates have for the last two cycles."

Holy cow.

If Wisconsinites buy Romney's blowing in the wind on issues from FEMA to health care to family planning, if we view Paul Ryan (who voted against extending unemployment benefits to displaced autoworkers in his hard-hit district) as a champion of working-class Wisconsinites, the cheese state will turn from blue to red.

And if that doesn't work, there is the Romney campaign's voter disinformation strategy.

A training manual for Wisconsin poll watchers obtained by ThinkProgress on Oct. 30 includes the advice that Romney campaign volunteers conceal their affiliation with the Republican candidate and identify themselves only as "concerned citizens." It then goes on to provide a long list of wrong information the poll watchers are told to give to voters, including:

Claim: Any "person [who] has been convicted of treason, a felony or bribery" isn't eligible to vote.

Fact: Convicted felons who have served their time and are not on probation or parole may legally vote in Wisconsin.

Claim: There are 10 specific items the manual says are "The ONLY Acceptable Forms of 'Proof of Residency.'"

Fact: Many other items, not on the list, are acceptable proof of residency under Wisconsin law, including letters from public schools, student loan papers, correspondence with a Native American tribe in Wisconsin, vehicle registration, food stamp letters, and affidavits from public or private social service agencies.

Claim: "If a handicapped voter is unable to come into the polls to vote, an assistant can deliver the ballot to the voter if the CEI verifies the elector's proof of residency."

Fact: No proof of residency is required for registered voters who are disabled.

Claim: "Election observers should not assist [voters]."

Fact: Voters may ask for and receive assistance from anyone, including election observers and polls workers.

Don't forget to vote.

Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.

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