By Scott Conroy
In a rally designed to exhibit his intentions of winning this blue-leaning state, which has not voted for a GOP presidential candidate since 1984, Mitt Romney on Monday joined four prominent Wisconsin Republicans at a textile factory where the crowd's energy matched the sweltering temperature inside.
Before Romney took the stage, hometown Congressman Paul Ryan, Sen. Ron Johnson, and RNC Chairman and Wisconsin native Reince Priebus took turns singing the former Massachusetts governor's praises and making the case that their state would prove decisive in electing him this November.
Many in the overflow crowd wore T-shirts and displayed other paraphernalia commemorating Gov. Scott Walker's victory in the recall election earlier this month, and Walker's status as the most venerated Wisconsin Republican among those on hand was confirmed when he came onstage with Romney to the tune of the latter's campaign theme song -- Kid Rock's "Born Free."
Standing amid a manufacturing setting that has become a fixture for many of his stump speeches, Romney appeared buoyed by the exuberant crowd and the impressive undercard of state politicians who had come out for the event.
"I'll tell ya, I think President Obama had just put this in his column -- he just assumed at the very beginning Wisconsin was going to be his," the presumptive nominee said. "But you know what? We're going to win Wisconsin. We're going to get the White House."
On a day when the temperature reached into the mid-90s outside, campaign volunteers passed out cups of water to keep hydrated the hundreds of supporters gathered inside the stifling factory.
The five Republican leaders onstage intermittently blotted sweat from their faces, and Romney at one point took note of a drop of condensation that fell from the factory's ceiling.
"It's so hot in here, the building was sweating," he joked.
Romney's trip to this working-class city in southern Wisconsin -- his first general election campaign stop in the state -- was in part designed to highlight Janesville's economic suffering and job exodus, which has led to a local unemployment rate exceeding the state's relatively low 6.8 percent.
Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and a vice-presidential prospect, was born and raised here and represents the 1st Congressional District that encompasses the town.
Ryan noted that five generations of his kin had resided in the city and pointed out individual family members in the crowd.
"We are unique in Wisconsin with the other battleground states," he said. "We, along with a handful of other states, will determine the trajectory of this country -- the future for our children. Will it be great? Will it be better? Will we give our kids a brighter future [and] keep that American legacy, or will we go down this dark path and give them a diminished future -- the path we are on today?"
Romney's Wisconsin visit came on the fourth day of his five-day tour of six battleground states that President Obama won in 2008.
Obama leads Romney by 3.4 percent in the latest RCP average of Wisconsin polls, and both sides expect it to be in play in November, despite its long-held Democratic leanings on the presidential level.
As he has done throughout this bus tour of small towns in the Northeast and Midwest, Romney kept his remarks focused exclusively on the economy, accusing Obama of trying to distract voters from the country's economic woes.
"Look, if there has ever been a president who has not been able to provide to the American people a fair shot, it is this president, and that is why we are going to replace him with someone who will go to work to get us working again," he said. "My priority is putting Americans back to work -- that's job one."
On Monday afternoon, Romney arrived in neighboring Iowa where he was slated to take a riverboat cruise along the Mississippi and hold an afternoon rally in Davenport -- an eastern Iowa city that was a Romney stronghold in his photo finish against Rick Santorum in the January caucuses. (Though Romney was declared the Iowa caucuses winner by a razor slim margin on election night, the final tally eventually went Santorum's way.)