The race for Wisconsin's U.S. Senate seat has taken a dramatic turn as Democrat Tammy Baldwin has opened up a 9 percentage point lead over Republican Tommy Thompson, according to a Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday.
Baldwin, a congresswoman from Madison, is leading the former governor by 50 percent to 41 percent among likely voters. In an August Marquette poll, Thompson led Baldwin 50 percent to 41 percent.
President Barack Obama also widened his lead from a month ago. Obama leads Republican challenger Mitt Romney 54 percent to 40 percent, the largest margin so far in the Marquette polls. In August, Obama led 49 percent to 46 percent.
Professor Charles Franklin, director of the poll, said the biggest shift in the Senate race was among independents.
"Baldwin has picked up a little bit with Democrats, but independents have reversed," Franklin noted. "It's a 50-38 advantage for Baldwin."
A Public Policy Polling poll released Tuesday shows Baldwin leading Thompson by 3 percentage points while a CBS-New York Times poll released Wednesday gives each candidate 47 percent of the vote.
As is the case in the Senate race, independents were the key factor in Obama picking up more support in the latest Marquette poll. In August, 45 percent of independents said they backed the president; in Wednesday's poll, it was 53 percent.
The school's August poll showed that despite tapping Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney didn't get as big a bump as was expected. Still, results last month showed a tightening race with only about 3 points separating the candidates, making the race a virtual dead heat.
Poll results released this week from other outlets like Public Policy Polling and joint ventures from NBC and the Wall Street Journal and CBS and the New York Times show Obama with a narrow lead over Romney in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, a Rasmussen Reports poll of 11 swing states — including Wisconsin — shows Romney with a 1-point lead over the president, 47 to 46 percent. In 2008, Rasmussen notes, Obama won these states with a combined margin of 53 to 46 percent.
Public Policy Polling, Franklin said, is conducting a new poll and he expects those results sometime next week.
The Marquette poll was conducted from Sept. 13 to 16. The results on the Senate and presidential races are from the responses of 601 likely voters and 4.1 percent margin of error.
Baldwin pleased, Thompson dismisses results
After the results of the Marquette poll were released, John Kraus from the Baldwin campaign issued a statement pointing to how working across party lines has clearly helped her move up in the polls:
Four polls released this week show that we are moving in the right direction as the choice for Wisconsin voters has been made clear. Tammy Baldwin has a strong record of fighting for Wisconsin middle class families and small businesses, and she isn’t afraid to take on the big moneyed special interests that have too much power and influence in Washington. Tommy Thompson has cashed in on his Washington connections with these same Washington special interests and he will continue working for them, not Wisconsin’s middle class. And unlike Thompson who has vowed to play the same ‘no compromise’ politics that has stood in the way of progress, Tammy will work across party lines to move our economic recovery forward.
Thompson dismissed the MU results based on an oversampling of Democrats:
The Marquette poll clearly oversamples Democrats, giving them a partisan advantage. We do not believe that today's Marquette poll reflects the opinions of Wisconsin voters. They have already attempted to adjust this flawed poll once today, indicating problems in their methodology. We have no doubt that Wisconsin families will see through the lies and demagoguery that Tammy Baldwin and her liberal cronies are using to divert voters' attention away from her failed record. No distortion of the truth or amount of money can cover up the fact that Madison liberal Tammy Baldwin is too extreme for Wisconsin.
The response from Republicans pointed out that Wisconsin is a swing state very much in play. Nicole Tieman, Wisconsin Communications Director for the Republican National Committee, released this statement:
Wisconsin is a crucial swing state that the Obama Campaign is clearly worried about losing. The President turned his back on his most loyal supporters during the recall election, has been absent from the state for over 200 days, and has implemented policies that have made Wisconsinites worse off. Now, after seeing the growing Republican momentum and enthusiastic support for Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan’s plan to strengthen Wisconsin’s small business and middle class families, the President is scrabbling to regain the support he’s lost since the 2008 election. President Obama’s upcoming visit to Milwaukee, paired with ad buys to be released next week show a President desperate to hang on to a state his campaign once thought was safely in their camp. In November, Wisconsin voters will choose a new direction and prove them wrong.