Salena Zito

“P.D. was 16 at the time and the only one home. Mom was driving back from a family visit in Colorado, our sister Janet and older brother Stan were away, and I was at breakfast with a former high-school teacher.

“Dad’s secretary had called looking for him. P.D. went down the hall to wake him up … Dad probably died during the night but that didn’t stop my brother from trying to resuscitate him.

“To me, that moment defined who he is … before, he was this happy-go-lucky kid that worked at McDonalds. From that point on, he persevered, focused, and 12 years later he was in Congress.”

Kathy Kopp of Platteville senses enormous pride among fellow Wisconsinites to have Ryan on the Republican ticket. “Whatever your political affiliation is, Ryan is very well respected by voters in this state,” she said.

Sitting inside a charming log cabin that is Platteville’s tourism center, Kopp and colleagues Debi Sigwarth and Joe Wand admit to being overwhelmed by political ads in the past two years.

Yet Wand hasn’t seen that dim enthusiasm for a native son on a presidential ticket: “Go down the street to the university and you will see plenty of young people with T-shirts that say ‘Like Obama, Voting Ryan.”

Wisconsin is well within reach for Romney-Ryan. Ryan’s House district, blue-collar and Democrat-leaning, is one that Obama must carry to win statewide; if Republicans run better-than-average there, they could exceed Walker’s recall numbers.

In a crowded elevator in downtown Chicago, Obama's hometown, Jason Buckle, 29, a Madison accountant in town for a conference, said the country needs Romney.

“But not just on the economy,” he explained. “The way the Mideast was handled last week was anything but presidential. In fact, it was dreadful, embarrassing.”

Republicans haven't won Wisconsin since 1984. That it is a GOP target this time tells you a lot.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.