Wisconsin Seen as the Linchpin in 2012 Politics – And Beyond
Congressman Paul Ryan says this year's outcomes in Wisconsin will affect a whole generation. And national pundit Michelle Malkin says a Walker recall loss would be "the most damaging thing" in American politics
Wisconsin is "ground zero." Wisconsin is "pivotal." Wisconsin is "critical." Wisconsin is where "the battle will be won."
Speaker after speaker at the "Defending the American Dream Summit" Saturday in Milwaukee reiterated that this is the battleground for conservatives.
It's expected that presidential hopefuls will tell the party faithful that their state's votes are the most important, wherever they might be.
But the only such presidential hopeful on the docket Saturday at the Wyndham Hotel was former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. Yet, speaker after speaker on the docket — be they sitting members of Congress or pundits or organizers at the national, state or local levels — said the same:
All eyes are on Wisconsin.
Here is where they make their stand
The Wisconsin Republican primary, just 10 days away on April 3, could set the Republican ticket. A win by Santorum could keep him in the race. A win by Mitt Romney, the frontrunner now, could seal the deal for him.
In the national election come November, Wisconsin, always a swing state, could make or break either party.
But a strong undercurrent during the day at "the summit," sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, was concern about the Wisconsin recall elections.
Most of all, the outcome of the recall elections here, especially the one challenging Gov. Scott Walker, could be a bellwether of national politics and in every state.
Moreover, contended Michelle Malkin, nationally known blogger and regular FOX News contributor, a Walker loss could change the very face of democracy, making every governor and elected official vulnerable to the whims of a disgruntled minority.
Malkin said such a loss would be "the most damaging thing" that could happen in all of American politics.
Going to the grassroots – perhaps for life support
The summit itself was billed as an educational conference put on by the AFP's Foundation arm, offering training in grassroots activism, particularly through social networking.
It was organized in 18 days and drew nearly 1,000 registered participants without any significant notice in the mainstream media, said state director Luke Hilgemann.
In interviews, Hilgemann, echoed by Malkin and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, said the Republican Party was catching up and in some ways surpassing the Democrats in organizing followers through social media and grassroots organizing, long the domain of the left.
The presence of Santorum on the speaker's list may have been an indication of his need to run strong in Wisconsin and to tap that grassroots support.
"All the candidates were invited," Hilgemann said. "We even invited President Obama to explain his economic vision."
That Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul did not come is perhaps indicative of their various positions in the race.
Romney is not just the frontrunner, he has recently been dubbed the presumptive nominee by elder statesmen in the GOP such as John McCain and Bob Dole.
According to a new poll, that has turned a majority of Wisconsin voters toward Romney as the party's best hope. Gingrich and Paul are hardly registering life signs here or on the national vital signs monitor.
Santorum took the stage Saturday and spent about two minutes attacking President Obama's policies before turning his attention entirely to attacking Romney.
And the next next GOP nominee is...
Even though he shocked his own party earlier this week in Louisiana by comparing a vote for Romney to one for Obama, Santorum continued in that vein Saturday in Milwaukee, saying that no one could tell Romney's policies from Obama's on important issues from health care to energy.
Santorum got a warm enough welcome from the crowd, as did U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson earlier.
But the wild enthusiasm was saved for the guy who says he is "really into numbers" — U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the final speaker of the day.
Santorum might possibly be a nominee for next president of the United States, despite great odds.
Ryan, it would seem, might very likely be a nominee for next president after that, if he wants to be.
"The battle … is coming to a main crescendo this year," Ryan told the enthusiastic crowd. "Because of math and momentum, the change will last for a generation.
"The debt crisis is coming and we see it coming. All these smart economists tell us that we’ve got about two years."
Obama's "fourth budget proposes to do nothing about this debt crisis," Ryan said. "No, I take that back. He’s going to make it worse.
"The good news: It is not too late to turn this around. We can do this. We an grow our economy by letting people keep more of what they earn.
"We need to be talked to like adults and not pampered like children. We need to deserve victory.
"We will save the American idea."