MADISON, Wis. — From an appearance by President Barack Obama on Monday morning to one by Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan at night, Wisconsin found itself squarely in the campaign crosshairs on the eve of Election Day.
Thousands of people crowded around the state Capitol despite temperatures in the 20s for their last chance to see Obama before Tuesday's election. Obama's morning rally, with rocker Bruce Springsteen in tow, was his third Wisconsin appearance in five days.
Obama's campaign erected a stage on a one-block street running between the Capitol and a convention center on the shores of Lake Monona. The crowd, decked out in overcoats, parkas and stocking caps, filled the block up to the Capitol. A small army of Secret Service agents, sheriff's deputies and Madison police patrolled the sidewalks and a Blackhawk helicopter circled the Capitol ahead of the president's appearance.
Robert Redwood, a University of Wisconsin Hospital resident physician, staked out a choice spot about 50 yards from the stage. Redwood, of McFarland, said he believes the federal health care overhaul that Obama championed will redefine the system and make his job easier once it's fully implemented. But the 30-year-old said he was just as excited to see Springsteen as the president.
"The two bosses," he said, riffing on Springsteen's nickname, "The Boss." "'Thunder Road' is my favorite song. I sing it often in the shower."
Sheryl Lilke, a 43-year-old yoga instructor from Madison, showed up with her 10-year-old son, Julian Cooper. She said she saw Obama the last time he was in Madison, and that this time she wanted to see Springsteen as much as the president.
"We would not have come again if it weren't for Bruce," she said. "It's good energy in a time that's very stressed."
Cooper said he was just glad to get out of a half-day of school.
The scene was reminiscent of the massive protests outside the Capitol over Republican Gov. Scott Walker's law stripping most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights. Fourteen Democratic state senators fled Wisconsin in a futile attempt to block a vote on the proposal and Democrats forced a number of Republican officeholders, including Walker, into recall elections as payback.
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of the Democrats who left the state, tried to stoke up the old anger over that proposal as he warmed up the crowd.
"If you remember, and I know you do, you gathered here about a year and a half ago," he said. "You stood up for rights of Wisconsin workers. ... We've been through so much this past year and a half in Wisconsin. And if it seems like we've had election after election, you're right. But we have one more to go."
Retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl urged people to vote, predicting that the presidential election would be close.
"The election will be decided by just a few votes, not millions of votes," he said.
Ryan, meanwhile was returning home for a night rally at the Milwaukee airport after a day of campaigning in other battleground states. Ryan has been a frequent visitor to Wisconsin since getting added to Mitt Romney's ticket in August, but Romney's stop near Milwaukee on Friday was his first trip to the state since he picked his running mate.
A number of Romney surrogates, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, were campaigning for him in Wisconsin on Monday.
The candidates for Wisconsin's open U.S. Senate seat were also making a last push. The race is the most expensive for a Senate seat in state history, with spending exceeding $65 million and climbing, and it's been marked by a barrage of negative ads branding Democrat Tammy Baldwin as a screaming, extremist liberal and Republican Tommy Thompson as an uncaring millionaire who abandoned his Wisconsin roots.
Baldwin appeared at Obama's rallies Thursday in Green Bay, Saturday in Milwaukee and on Monday in Madison, and Thompson was with Romney on Friday. Both Thompson and Baldwin had numerous last-day campaign events in swing parts of the state including Green Bay and Wausau.
Baldwin, 50, gave up her safe congressional seat to run for the Senate after Democratic incumbent Sen. Herb Kohl announced his retirement. Baldwin is vying to become Wisconsin's first woman senator and the first openly gay candidate elected to the Senate. Thompson, 70, is trying for a political comeback after serving as governor for 14 years. Briefly a candidate for president in 2007, and U.S. health secretary for four years, Thompson hasn't been on the ballot in Wisconsin since 1998.
The most recent Marquette University Law School poll released last week showed Obama leading Romney by 8 percentage points in Wisconsin among likely voters and Baldwin leading Thompson by 4 percentage points, with a 2.8-point margin of error.Comment on this story
Thompson told WTMJ-AM radio in Milwaukee on Monday morning he felt optimistic, saying he's been traveling all over the state.
"We put on 1,200 miles in the last three days. The crowds were great. The excitement is there. And the polls don't pick up the kind of enthusiasm that our base has ... and that's going to make the difference tomorrow. I feel very good about where I'm at. I feel very good about Romney and Ryan. And tonight we're going to have a great rally down in Milwaukee when Paul Ryan comes home."
Associated Press writers Todd Richmond in Madison and Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee contributed to this report.