By KASIE HUNT AND SCOTT BAUER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
JANESVILLE, Wis. -- Mitt Romney is looking to capitalize on a big Republican victory in Wisconsin as he visits the state for the first time since GOP Gov. Scott Walker survived a contentious recall election.
Wisconsin hasn't voted for a Republican for president since 1984, and President Barack Obama won big here in 2008. But now that Walker has challenged public sector unions and survived a Democratic push to oust him as governor, Republicans sense an opportunity – and Romney plans to continue his six-state bus tour in Janesville, about 75 miles southwest of Milwaukee.
Still, the candidate was cautious in assessing his chances. "It's just such a long way out. So much happens," Romney told reporters on his campaign plane when asked if Walker's win made him more optimistic he could carry the state in November. "I can't make any predictions other than we're going to work hard and have some fun tomorrow."
Romney will appear in Wisconsin with Rep. Paul Ryan, the architect of the House Republican budget that would restructure America's entitlement programs. Ryan's hometown of Janesville was hard hit by the economic recession; a General Motors plant used to employ thousands here, but it closed in 2009.
The stop will begin the fourth day of a five-day bus tour that has already taken Romney from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania to Ohio. Romney also plans to campaign in Iowa on Monday, with a boat tour in Dubuque and a rally in Davenport. He plans to campaign in Michigan on Tuesday.
Ryan is one of several potential vice presidential picks to campaign with Romney throughout the tour. The likely presidential nominee has also appeared with New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.
Heavy with both factories and farms, Ryan's district in southern Wisconsin is typically carried by Democratic presidential candidates. Obama carried the state by 14 points in 2008 – an unusual margin, given that Democrats John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000 each won Wisconsin by less than a single percentage point.
Walker and Republicans swept into power in 2010, turning the entire state legislature to their side and knocking Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold from office. Obama's campaign is clearly nervous, moving the state from trending toward the president to undecided.
"We are not really a red state or a blue state. We really aren't," said state Sen. Tim Cullen, a moderate Democrat from Janesville who previously worked as a cabinet secretary for Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. "People in this state split their ticket in huge numbers, so it's not at all unusual to have people vote for Gov. Walker and President Obama."
An Associated Press exit poll of voters in the Walker recall showed a majority said they would vote for Obama in five months.
Still, Republicans are confident in the wake of Walker's 7-point recall win on June 5. Republicans here point to an energized ground organization they built to keep Walker in office, and Romney inherits a party infrastructure that made 4.5 million voter contacts in recent months and has 26 field offices across the state.
"That is the organizational strength we're going to take to November," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said after the recall election. "We crushed the Democrats on the ground. We beat them at their own game."
The Obama campaign has been on the ground organizing in Wisconsin but hasn't spent money on advertising for months. Neither Obama nor Romney has run TV ads in the state.
Obama steered clear of Wisconsin during the recall race, never campaigning for the Democratic candidate. Obama's last visit to Wisconsin was in February, at a Master Lock plant in Milwaukee.
Unemployment in Wisconsin has ticked gradually downward this year, falling to 6.7 percent in April, which is lower than the national average. But Janesville, a city of about 60,000, has lagged.
The city's unemployment rate spiked to almost 16 percent in the months after the GM plant closed before gradually falling to 9 percent in April. That is still the seventh highest for any Wisconsin city.
Bauer reported from Madison, Wis. Associated Press writer Brian Bakst contributed to this report.
With A Little Help From My Friends (Joe Cocker)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/mitt-romney-will-not-repu_n_1551540.html" target="_hplink">(May 28, 2012) --</a></strong> Despite a resurgence of <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/25/mitt-romney-s-new-bff-donald-trump.html" target="_hplink">Donald Trump's birther claims</a>, Romney refused to repudiate the billionaire, who has been helping with his 2012 campaign efforts. "You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me ... I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people," Romney said. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Who Let The Dogs Out (Baha Men)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/mitt-romney-seamus_n_1429925.html" target="_hplink">(April 16, 2012) -- </a></strong> In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Romney discussed the political fallout over strapping his dog Seamus to a car roof. He admits that he probably would not do it again. (Handout)
It's The End Of The World As We Know It (R.E.M.)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/mitt-romney-medicare-president-obama_n_1403267.html" target="_hplink">WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 4, 2012) --</a></strong> Speaking before the Newspaper Association of America, Romney attacked Barack Obama on his health record, claiming the president "has taken a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it." (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
For The Love Of Money (The O'Jays)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/mitt-romney-i-made-a-lot-of-money_n_1345516.html" target="_hplink"><strong>NEW YORK, N.Y. (March 14, 2012) -- </strong></a> Romney became testy on Fox News while discussing his appeal to lower-income voters. On the same day, Occupy Wall Street protesters staged a demonstration outside Mitt's Waldorf Astoria hotel fundraiser. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
People Are Strange (The Doors)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/mitt-romney-south_n_1334478.html" target="_hplink">PASCAGOULA, Miss. (March 9, 2012) --</a></strong> While on the trail in Alabama and Mississippi, Romney got in touch with his Southern side, learning how to say "y'all" and liking his grits. With those new experiences in hand, he admitted that "strange things are happening to me." (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)
Pink Cadillac (Bruce Springsteen)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/mitt-romney-cadillac_n_1299740.html" target="_hplink"><strong>DETROIT, Mich. (Feb. 24, 2012) -- </strong></a> While speaking before the Detroit Economic Club at Ford Field, Romney listed not two, not three, but four American-made cars that he and his wife, Ann, owned. Among the vehicles: "a couple of Cadillacs." (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
It's The Hard-Knock Life (Annie & The Orphans)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/mitt-romney-very-poor_n_1246557.html" target="_hplink">TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2012) --</a></strong> In an interview with CNN, Romney noted that he is "not concerned about the very poor," citing the social safety net for that segment of the populace. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
America The Beautiful
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/31/mitt-romney-america-the-beautiful-_n_1243908.html" target="_hplink"><strong>THE VILLAGES, Fla. (Jan. 31, 2012) --</strong></a> On the eve of Florida's primary, Romney led his supporters in a singing of the patriotic song. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Successful (Drake, Lil Wayne)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/mitt-romney-tax-returns_n_1217708.html" target="_hplink"> <strong>CHARLESTON, S.C. (Jan. 19, 2012) -- </strong></a> During CNN's GOP debate, Romney refused to commit to disclosing his tax returns, offering no apologies for his success. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Bye Bye Bye ('N Sync)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/mitt-romney-i-like-being-able-to-fire-people_n_1194115.html" target="_hplink"><strong>NASHUA, N.H. (Jan. 9, 2012) -- </strong></a> In a speech about insurance options, Romney tells audience members, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." (Photo:AP/Charles Dharapak)
Don't Know Why (Norah Jones)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/28/mitt-romney-embraces-climate-change-denial_n_1063905.html" target="_hplink">PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Oct. 27, 2011) --</a></strong> Back in June 2011, Romney said humans are somewhat tied to climate change. By October, he had reversed course, saying "We don't know what causes climate change." (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)