Wisconsin’s charged political climate has sparked an unprecedented influx of cash in state politics, but presidential candidates have not reaped the benefits of that fundraising momentum. As the state’s April 3 primary nears, the latest data shows donations from Wisconsin residents in the 2012 presidential race have plunged more than 50 percent from levels four years ago. Through the end of February, Wisconsin donations per capita are the fourth-lowest among the 50 states. The comparisons are imperfect because many primary dates shifted — Wisconsin’s was in mid-February in 2008 — but there’s no denying Wisconsin is a dramatically different state than it was in 2008, said Arnold Shober, a political science professor at Lawrence University in Appleton. “One of the drawbacks of having so much state-level activity is that those races are sucking up … campaign donations here, and I think we’re starting to see some sense of political burnout here in Wisconsin with the increased level of political vitriol,” he said. “That level of animosity has really dampened some of the enthusiasm that often goes into politics, especially in big election years like this one will be.”
Wisconsin’s slot on the Republican primary schedule finds former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in search of a knockout blow, having built a commanding lead with 29 state primaries in the books. Entering Saturday’s Louisiana primary, The Associated Press tally had Romney with 563 delegates, more than double his closest rival; former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum has 263. Candidates need 1,144 delegates to win the nomination.
The co-chair of Romney’s state campaign said the recall frenzy has forced a fundamental change in campaign strategy here. Staffers were laying groundwork in Wisconsin as far back as last fall, but in deference to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall fight, they condensed and cut back fundraising efforts as the din grew in Madison. “We’ve delayed, delayed, delayed in an effort to try and make sure that Gov. Walker is successful. Once that’s accomplished, then we’re going to turn our attention to the presidential and defeating (President) Barack Obama,” said Ted Kanavas, who is also a former state senator. “It was definitely easier to get people animated about a presidential candidate in 2008.”