WI Senate: Thompson defeats conservative-backed candidates
Voters in Wisconsin headed to the polls yesterday to cast their ballots in party primaries. Among the races on the Republican ballot was the nomination for United States Senate. This race hasn’t receive a lot of attention, despite its interesting dynamics.
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson was considered the strong favorite early on, but thanks to his support of ObamaCare and other less-than-conservative economic views, two other candidates, Eric Hovde and former Rep. Mark Neumann, were able to gain support from grassroots conservative and Tea Party groups.
Despite most recent polls showing Hovde with a slight advantage, Thompson managed to pull off a win last night:
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 Health and Human Services Department Secretary 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.
The attacks on issues like Thompson’s past support for a health care mandate damaged him but the anti-Thompson vote was splintered between his three credible challengers.
Thompson largely framed his case around his electability in November and his bid was bolstered by late praise offered by GOP Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan, the newly minted vice presidential candidate.
The outcome of the race isn’t entirely surprising given that key conservative groups were split on whom to support. The Club for Growth, Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, RedState had all come down solidly on the side of Neumann. FreedomWorks, which has strong ties to the Tea Party movement, backed Hovde. As I warned earlier this month (and alluded to last month), the conservative divide in the race would likely help Thompson just as the divide in Nebraska helped Deb Fischer win the GOP Senate nomination.
With Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) retiring at the beginning of the year, Republicans feel that the seat is in play. This race may be the one that tips control of the Senate into Republican hands, but can anyone honestly say that Thompson is going to be a vote to repeal ObamaCare or balance the budget?