Wisconsin Ground Zero for 2012 Election

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If President Obama's first trip after tonight's State of the Union address signals anything to the America voters, it's that jobs and the economy will remain his No. 1 focus and also that No. 44 might have some tough work ahead of him over the next two years if he wants to keep Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes in the blue column in 2012.

Wednesday, President Obama will use his first opportunity to follow up on his State of the Union to travel to Manitowoc, Wis., about 40 miles south of Green Bay, to deliver an economic speech to employees at a power technology company.

Although Al Gore, John Kerry and President Obama all carried the Badger state in the past three presidential elections, Wisconsin is a state where the Democratic Party held power and arguably suffered a defeat there worse than its losses in any other state during the Republican's landslide victories in the 2010 elections.

Both chambers of the state legislature flipped to Republican rule. Republican Scott Walker handily won the governor's seat that was previously held by two-term Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, an Obama supporter who decided not to seek reelection in 2010. The Wisconsin GOP also picked up two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and voters unseated Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold, who served in the U.S. Senate for 18 years before Republican businessman and now Sen. Ron Johnson defeated him last fall.

"I think it's the Democrats' nightmare, a state that Obama won quite handily has suddenly switched at all levels," said Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "This really puts the fear of God in Democrats that Wisconsin might stay in Republican mode, in which case for the 2012 Obama reelection campaign is particularly frightening."

For the state's political U-turn last fall, Republicans across the nation are certainly taking notice.

Tonight, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will deliver the GOP's official response to President Obama's State of the Union address. Ryan is a policy intellectual and one of the few members of Congress who have proposed serious ways to address the increasing deficit, but his proposals -- which would curtail the growth of Social Security spending and ultimately replace Medicare with a voucher program -- are controversial and have not been endorsed by the House GOP leadership.

That recognition also came in the form of a promotion for Wisconsin State GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, who was just elected the party's national chairman. Priebus won on the seventh ballot, defeating former RNC chairman Michael Steele, and Maria Cino, a seasoned GOP operative that was backed by former Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Franklin says that the GOP's win up and down the ballot was due to voter turnout and that whichever party can get out the vote in 2012 stands to win Wisconsin's electoral votes.

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