Three years ago, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin did an interview with National Public Radio, which for a conservative like Ryan must have been like an expedition behind enemy lines.
Ryan did a good job explaining on the program why his home state -- where President Bush lost by a narrow margin to Sen. John Kerry in 2004 -- had been increasingly targeted by presidential campaigns, and why it was a state Republicans could win in future national elections.
"In 2000, we were moderately targeted," Ryan said. "We saw President Bush and Vice President Gore, at the time, come to Wisconsin, oh, maybe twice a month. I had President Bush in my congressional district probably once a week in this last election in the last few months. So we saw the beginning of being targeted in 2000. We were saturated in 2004. I think we're going to be just, well, oversaturated in 2008."
Ryan is right -- especially if, as expected, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois emerges as the Democratic nominee and continues to have trouble reaching out to culturally conservative swing voters in Northern states.
Consider how Ryan, on NPR three years ago, explained the conservative appeal Republicans could have with Wisconsin voters.
"Wisconsin is very much of a Catholic state, a majority pro-life state," Ryan said. "So I do believe that on moral and cultural values, Wisconsin is definitely a conservative state. So what we've seen is we've seen a coalition of Second Amendment-right advocates and rugged individualists combined with conservative family values. Those two elements have formed a majority coalition, which I think will be the success of the Republican Party and the future in Wisconsin."
Guns owners and church-goers? Although it should be noted that Obama won the Feb. 19 Democratic primary in Wisconsin, soundly defeating Clinton there (58 percent to 41 percent), that was before he famously dismissed the "bitter" people of small town Pennsylvania, who anchor the Eastern branch of the coalition Ryan describes in Wisconsin.
Two of the things Arizona Sen. John McCain must do to take the 2008 election are inspire the conservative GOP base to turn out to vote in large numbers and persuade the swing voters who could determine the outcome in Northern states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio to vote for him.
McCain can hurt himself in both areas by picking the wrong vice presidential candidate. He can help himself in both areas by picking the right vice presidential candidate.