Momentum shifts to Democrat in tight Wisconsin Senate race

October 1, 2012

(Reuters) – Fresh off a nasty battle to recall Wisconsin’s governor in the spring, the state has another high profile political fight on its hands for the U.S. Senate.

But after an expensive four-way Republican primary that he won narrowly, Senate candidate and former governor Tommy Thompson was left “broke” – forcing him to raise more money and campaign less. Poor polling for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is an average of 8 points behind Democratic President Barack Obama in the state, has not helped.

Thompson’s Democratic opponent, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, meanwhile has been campaigning actively and spending freely on advertising, erasing a lead for Thompson and putting her ahead by an average of 5 points in September polling.

“Tommy Thompson has gotten himself into somewhat of a hole,” said Barry Burden, a politics professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “He’s taken a pounding and he’s not where he wants to be with less than six weeks to go.”

Thompson, Wisconsin’s longest-serving governor, and Baldwin, who would be the first openly gay U.S. senator, both claim to be middle-class champions and anticipate a tough campaign.

“I think you’re going to see a closer, more competitive race than what you see in the polls,” Baldwin said before campaigning in West Salem, a town of 5,000 in western Wisconsin. “Historically, this has been an evenly divided state.”

After a bruising 16-month battle over a law curtailing collective bargaining rights for public sector workers that ended in the unsuccessful recall of Walker, Wisconsin was seen as a tossup in Senate and presidential races. Romney’s choice of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate does not appear to have helped Republicans here.

Democrats now control the Senate, 53-47, and Republicans need a net gain of four seats on November 6 to ensure they take a majority in the chamber and control the legislative agenda.

Thompson says that Baldwin campaign’s cash advantage over the past six weeks “means that I have to work harder.”

“But now we got money and we’re coming back.”

Charles Franklin, a professor at Marquette Law School in Milwaukee, says there is still time for the momentum to shift. “But time is beginning to run short,” he said


The issues in the race largely reflect those in the national election. Thompson argues lower taxes, fewer regulations, large spending cuts and entitlement reform will boost the sluggish U.S. economy. He also attacks Baldwin for supporting Obama’s health care reforms, and vows to repeal them.

The former governor has shifted from describing himself as a “true conservative” in the Republican primary to a “moderate conservative.” Thompson says he had a successful record as governor and that Baldwin is an extreme liberal who favors “more taxes and government control of the economy.”

A February 2012 National Journal ranking of U.S. House members has Baldwin tied with two others as the 21st most liberal of the 435-member chamber.

Republican voters like Doug Hass, who lives north of Madison, say Thompson will bring sanity to Washington.

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