MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Bruce Springsteen returned to Madison on Monday to lend some rock 'n' roll star power to President Barack Obama's campaign, as Wisconsin remained in the spotlight in the waning hours of the 2012 campaign.
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a congressman from Janesville who joined Mitt Romney's ticket in August, planned to end his day of visiting battleground states with a homecoming rally in Milwaukee.
The attention on Wisconsin the day before the election speaks to how closely both campaigns see the race and the importance of the state's 10 electoral votes. The race for Wisconsin's open U.S. Senate seat was also hanging in the balance, with polls showing the contest between former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin as even tighter than the race for the presidency.
It all added up to an exciting, and expensive, campaign season in Wisconsin, which already weathered June recall election targeting Republican Gov. Scott Walker as well as several this year and last aimed at ousting state senators. All eight of the state's congressional seats, all 99 state Assembly seats and half of the state Senate were also to be decided Tuesday.
As summer slipped into fall and polls showed the race between Obama and Romney tightening, the two campaigns focused their efforts on winning Wisconsin and a few other battleground states. Obama visited Wisconsin three times in the five days before the election, bringing pop star Katy Perry with him on Saturday and Springsteen on Monday.
While Perry made headlines for wearing a skin tight mini-dress emblazoned with the word "Forward" — which is both Obama's campaign theme and Wisconsin's state motto — Springsteen opted for black jeans and a vest when he took the stage under a sunny sky and temperatures in the 20s.
About 18,000 people crowded around the stage, which was perpendicular to the state Capitol and a block down the street. Many who waited in line for hours to see Springsteen, who previously campaigned in Madison in 2004 for John Kerry and drew 80,000, said he was as much of a draw as the president.
"The two bosses," said Robert Redwood, riffing on Springsteen's nickname, "The Boss." The 30-year-old University of Wisconsin Hospital resident physician staked out a choice spot about 50 yards from the stage.
Sheryl Lilke, a 43-year-old yoga instructor from Madison, showed up with her 10-year-old son, Julian Cooper. She said she saw Obama the last time he was in Madison about a month ago.
"We would not have come again if it weren't for Bruce," she said. "It's good energy in a time that's very stressed."
Cooper said he was just glad to get out of a half-day of school.
The scene was reminiscent of the massive protests outside the Capitol over Republican Gov. Scott Walker's law stripping most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights. Fourteen Democratic state senators fled Wisconsin in a futile attempt to block a vote on the proposal and Democrats forced a number of Republican officeholders, including Walker, into recall elections as payback.
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of the Democrats who left the state and also a well-known Springsteen fan who's seen him in concert numerous times, tried to stoke up the old anger over that proposal as he warmed up the crowd.
"If you remember, and I know you do, you gathered here about a year and a half ago," he said. "You stood up for rights of Wisconsin workers. ... We've been through so much this past year and a half in Wisconsin. And if it seems like we've had election after election, you're right. But we have one more to go."
Retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl urged people to vote, predicting that the presidential election would be close.
"The election will be decided by just a few votes, not millions of votes," he said.
The race to succeed Kohl is the most expensive for a Senate seat in state history, with spending exceeding $65 million and climbing, and it's been marked by a barrage of negative ads branding Baldwin as a screaming, extremist liberal and Thompson as an uncaring millionaire who abandoned his Wisconsin roots.
Baldwin, in her comments at the rally, said the election offers a choice between two visions for the country.
"Your voices will be heard because Wisconsin, we need a senator and a president who will fight for us," she said to cheers from the hometown crowd.
Thompson told WTMJ-AM radio in Milwaukee on Monday morning he felt optimistic, saying he's been traveling all over the state.
"We put on 1,200 miles in the last three days. The crowds were great. The excitement is there. And the polls don't pick up the kind of enthusiasm that our base has ... and that's going to make the difference tomorrow. I feel very good about where I'm at. I feel very good about Romney and Ryan."
Baldwin, 50, gave up her safe congressional seat to run for the Senate after Kohl announced his retirement. Baldwin is vying to become Wisconsin's first woman senator and the first openly gay candidate elected to the Senate. Thompson, 70, is trying for a political comeback after serving as governor for 14 years. Briefly a candidate for president in 2007, and U.S. health secretary for four years, Thompson hasn't been on the ballot in Wisconsin since 1998.
Associated Press writers Todd Richmond in Madison and Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee contributed to this report.