President Barack Obama smiles at moderator Jim Leher during the first presidential debate with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at the University of Denver Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver.
MADISON, Wis. — President Barack Obama will fire-up his Democratic base during a rally Thursday at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he's expected to urge his supporters to vote early.
Obama won Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008, an easy win in a state where 1-in-5 ballots came in before Election Day.
Thursday's event is sure to draw a large and friendly crowd for the president, who attracted 26,000 people the last time he came to Madison in 2010. A Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday showed Obama with an 11-point lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney just five weeks before the election.
Although in-person early voting doesn't begin until Oct. 22, absentee ballots started being sent to Wisconsin voters who requested them at the end of September. Those ballots must be post-marked by Election Day. In-person early voting ends the Friday before the election on Nov. 2.
Mike Prager, a 39-year-old state employee from Madison, said he plans to vote early for Obama just like he did in 2008. He said it was a good idea for Obama to use his Wisconsin visit to emphasize the importance of Democrats casting their ballots as early as possible.
"It's more convenient," Prager said. "I work downtown, I won't have to wait in any lines. And I don't have to worry if something comes up on Election Day."
Romney's camp said the Obama visit — his second to Wisconsin in as many weeks — shows that the president is concerned about losing the state and its 10 electoral votes. Wisconsin hasn't voted for a Republican for president since 1984, but Romney hopes to break that streak with the help of Janesville-native Paul Ryan on his ticket as vice president.
"The thrill is gone in a lot of places, and Madison is a classic example of that," said Rich Beeson, Romney's political director. "They need to go in and prop up the base."
Obama's decision to return to Wisconsin so quickly after his last visit, which came after he hadn't been to the state in 220 days, is an indication of how well Romney and Ryan are doing in Wisconsin, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said.
"It's the only state where we've actually added to our target list for advertising as a result of what's happening on the ground," Newhouse said. "We're excited about where we stand in Wisconsin. I think our on-the-ground activity reinforces that."
Newhouse and Beeson refused to disclose their internal poll numbers.
But the Marquette poll showed Obama maintaining a strong lead over Romney. Two weeks ago, his lead was 14 points. In the latest poll, which was done Sept. 27 through Sunday, had Obama up by 11. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
Both sides use a variety of tactics — including robocalls, direct mailing, pleas over social media and the more traditional canvassing of neighborhoods — to identify their supporters and remind them to vote early.
"We're looking at folks who haven't voted in most of the last four elections, but if they did vote they would vote for Mitt Romney and Congressman Ryan," Beeson said.
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As a general rule, a strong ground operation can make a difference of between 2 or 3 points in the polls, Beeson added.
Early or absentee voting is under way in more than half the states, and at least a third of voters nationwide are expected to make their choices before Nov. 6.
In Wisconsin, 71,347 absentee ballots have been requested by election clerks who use the statewide voter database. The ballots are mailed and collected locally, so there is no overall total for how many have been submitted to date. In 2008, 21 percent of ballots cast in Wisconsin were absentee.
Many more voters will show up and vote early.