By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who now works as a strategist for President Barack Obama's campaign, said Wednesday he expects a tighter race in Wisconsin than in 2008 when Obama carried the state by 14 points.
Gibbs was in Madison to meet with University of Wisconsin students and host a video meeting with students on other campuses across the country to mobilize them for the 2012 campaign. In an interview with The Associated Press before the event, Gibbs said he expects Wisconsin to be pivotal in the election and be much closer than four years ago when Obama easily defeated Republican Sen. John McCain.
No one expected the president to win Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008 and they don't this year either, he said.
"This race will be closer," he said. "There's nobody that's overconfident in our campaign."
Gibbs also downplayed any concerns about how the expected recall election targeting Republican Gov. Scott Walker will affect resources and energy for the presidential race. For most of the summer and fall, the presidential election ``will be the biggest show'' in the state, he said.
Any recall election against Walker, which is expected to be called by the state elections board later this month, is expected in either May or June.
Gibbs' visit comes less than a month before Republican voters will vote in their presidential primary on April 3. With that race still undecided, most are anticipating that Wisconsin's primary will be an important one for Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum as they continue to battle it out for the nomination.
Gibbs said that ongoing primary fight is good for the president because it allows him to work on mobilization efforts, such as Wednesday night's meeting, and other things such as registering voters while the Republican candidates tear each other down.
College-age voters were a big reason for Obama's victory in 2008. But the Obama win didn't carry over to 2010, when Republicans took control of the Legislature and governor's office from Democrats, defeated Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold and picked up two seats in Congress to now hold a majority.
Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Ben Sparks said Gibbs was sent to Wisconsin ``to try and spin the Obama campaign's way out of a dire situation.''
Sparks said voters in 2010 clearly rejected Democrats' policies and were prepared to vote Republican in the presidential race. No Republican has won Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984. (Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)