Tommy Thompson wins Wisconsin Senate nod

August 15, 2012

Wisconsin Republicans bucked tea party forces to pick 70-year-old former Gov. Tommy Thompson, a pillar of the GOP establishment, as their Senate standard-bearer Tuesday in a contest that could determine control of the upper chamber.

Thompson, who served four terms as governor, beat back a pair of well-funded, stubborn challengers in a closely contested race, setting up a marquee match-up with liberal Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin this fall.


The ex-governor and former secretary of Health and Human Services finished ahead of hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, 34 percent to 31 percent. Former Rep. Mark Neumann was far behind at 23 percent. State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald won 12 percent of the vote.

While Thompson’s near-universal name identification allowed him to begin the race with a double-digit polling advantage, Hovde and Neumann chipped away at his early summer lead by labeling him a moderate who was out of touch with the current conservative movement.

The attacks on issues such as Thompson’s past support for a health care mandate damaged him, but the anti-Thompson vote was splintered among his three credible challengers.

Thompson largely framed his case around his electability in November, and his bid was bolstered by late praise offered by two prominent Badger State Republican office-holders, Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan, the newly minted vice-presidential candidate.

At a rally in Waukesha on Sunday, Ryan credited Thompson for his work on welfare reform. Just days earlier, Walker applauded Thompson for using the line item veto “successfully … to save taxpayers money.” Both glowing statements ended up in Thompson’s closing ads on radio and television.

A spokesman for the Senate Conservatives Fund, a super PAC founded by Sen. Jim DeMint that had endorsed Neumann, said Ryan’s blessing pulled Thompson over the finish line.

“Paul Ryan’s clever endorsement of Tommy Thompson late in the race was a stroke of brilliance. It was perfectly timed, and Thompson was quick to capitalize on it. Before Ryan got involved, Thompson was sinking. Ryan’s boost was what he needed when he needed,” SCF executive director Matt Hoskins told POLITICO.

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