A Quinnipiac survey of likely voters conducted in late July showed John McCain neck-and-neck with Barack Obama in Minnesota, but trailing by double-digits in Wisconsin. At that time Smart Politics warned that the political history of the region would make it very unlikely for McCain to perform better in Minnesota than in the Badger State.

A new Rasmussen poll released today shows the weight of history bearing down on Obama in Wisconsin – an 11-point Obama lead from early July is now reduced to just 4 points: 47 to 43 percent. This conforms to the recent trend of McCain gaining ground on Obama in other state polls, as documented by Smart Politics earlier this week.

Is the new Rasmussen poll evidence of a true surge for McCain in Wisconsin, or is it a ‘phantom surge’ produced by the imprecision of public opinion surveys? One sign from the Rasmussen poll indicates the new numbers cannot be dismissed so easily: in the July 8th Rasmussen poll, 65 percent of likely Wisconsin voters disapproved of President Bush’s job performance. In the new August 5th poll, precisely 65 percent of likely Wisconsin voters again disapprove of Bush’s performance. In short, it does not appear at first glance that Rasmussen’s likely voter screen oversampled gung-ho Republicans in the new August poll; there is real momentum for McCain.

What is more likely an explanation for McCain’s rising numbers is the ad war he launched in the Badger State several weeks ago. McCain has been running several different ads in Wisconsin that attack Obama’s leadership skills, his energy plan, as well as his ‘celebrity’ (in the now quite famous spot). Obama has responded to the McCain ads in Wisconsin – but mostly on the substantive points on energy policy.

For those political junkies who were worried Obama would win Wisconsin in a cakewalk, have no fear: Wisconsin, you still are a true battleground state.