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President Obama greets supporters during a campaign rally on Saturday in Milwaukee.
President Obama greets supporters during a campaign rally on Saturday in Milwaukee. Scott Olson/Getty Images
President Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, seem to have switched places in recent days.
The incumbent president is promising to change Washington from the outside. Meanwhile, Romney, who made his fortune turning businesses around, says he wants to work within the existing political system.
The contrast was on display Saturday in Wisconsin, where Obama held one of the biggest rallies of his re-election campaign.
Thousands of people packed an outdoor pavilion Saturday night to hear from Obama, who said you can't bring about change if you write off half the country. The president was taking issue with Romney's secretly videotaped comment that 47 percent of voters are out of reach because they don't pay income taxes and think of themselves as victims.
"I don't see a lot of victims here today," Obama said. "I see hard-working Wisconsinites."
A cold rain began blowing in off Lake Michigan, but the crowd never budged during the president's speech. And neither did Obama.
"I know you're getting wet," he said, "but I've got one more thing to say."
The president turned to a theme he raised this past week with Univision TV, when he was asked about some of the unfinished business of his first term. He confessed that he'd been less successful than he'd hoped in overcoming partisan gridlock.
"I was trying to make this point the other day in Florida, and I said you can't change Washington just from the inside," he said. "I've learned that you've got to enlist and mobilize the American people to help bring about change from the outside."
Romney pounced on the president's original comment, telling a crowd in Sarasota, Fla., Thursday that Obama was waving the "white flag of surrender."
"I can change Washington. I will change Washington. We'll get the job done from the inside. Republicans and Democrats will come together," Romney said. "He can't do it. His slogan was 'Yes We Can.' His slogan now is 'No I Can't.' This is time for a new president."
But if Romney thinks changing Washington from the inside is a selling point, Obama made clear to his audience in Wisconsin Saturday that he has other ideas.
"That made me want to ask, what kind of inside job is he talking about?" Obama said.
The candidates' first face-to-face debate is still 10 days away. But the president's audience was enjoying this long-distance confrontation.
"If it's the job of letting oil companies write our energy policy, or our insurance companies writing our health care policies, or outsourcers writing tax codes, that's not the inside job we want," he said.
The New Battleground
Obama now sees beating Republicans as a necessary precondition for working with them. But, rhetorically at least, he can still invoke his signature brand of post-partisanship, even when it comes to football. Obama joked that he was proud to have a couple of players from the Green Bay Packers in his audience, despite his own allegiance to the Chicago Bears.
"We are not Bears fans first or Packers fans first. We are Americans first," he said.
If saluting the Packers was tough to swallow, Obama had no trouble chowing down on a hot bratwurst from the Milwaukee Brat House, or picking up a to-go order from Usinger's sausage shop.
This kind of retail politicking has been going on for months in Ohio, Colorado and Virginia. But Wisconsin is a newcomer to the battleground list. Four years ago, Obama carried the state by 14 points. Since then, Republicans have made big inroads, and polls in the state tightened after Romney tapped Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate.
Charles Franklin, who oversees political polling at Marquette Law School in Milwaukee, says you can see the intensity of the contest just by turning on the TV.
"We're in the crosshairs now," he says. "Both campaigns are running a fairly vigorous advertising campaign."
Polls in the last two weeks suggest Obama has regained a more comfortable lead in Wisconsin. The president's re-election campaign insists it's taking nothing for granted. It's deploying one of its biggest assets — Michelle Obama — to campaign in Wisconsin this coming week.