Former governor Tommy Thompson won the Republican Senate primary in Wisconsin on Tuesday, edging out self-funding businessman Eric Hovde. Thompson will face Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin in the general election.
The AP called the race for Thompson, who led Hovde 35 percent to 30 percent, with 81 percent of precincts reporting.
Thompson’s win is also a victory for the Republican establishment, which has taken a beating in several Senate races this cycle, with conservative underdogs winning upsets in Texas, Missouri and Indiana. His long record of general election success strengthens Republicans' chances of taking over the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl this year.
"I congratulate Tommy Thompson on winning the Wisconsin Senate Republican Primary. Governor Thompson's election ensures that the people of Wisconsin will have a clear choice this November between continuing the status quo of reckless spending, record debt, and higher taxes by electing Tammy Baldwin, or reversing course and finally focusing on pro-jobs, pro-growth policies," said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn of Texas, in a statement.
Thompson, who served four terms as governor and later as George W. Bush’s Health and Human Services secretary, withstood an intense negative campaign against him. The anti-tax Club for Growth and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C) backed former congressman Mark Neumann, and actively railed against Thompson’s candidacy. Neumann is headed for a third place finish, a blow to the national conservative groups that supported him.
During the campaign, many conservatives took issue with politically moderate positions Thompson had staked out in the past, including his prior support for an individual health care mandate, something the Club reminded voters about in a campaign video. But Thompson’s strong name identification from his past service and a crowded field of candidates seeking to be the anti-Thompson were his saving graces.
Thompson will now set his sights on Baldwin, who faced no competition for her party’s nomination and has been building a well-stocked campaign war chest for months. As of late July, Baldwin had over $3 million in her campaign account. Thompson, meanwhile, struggled to raise cash during the primary.
Baldwin represents a heavily Democratic Madison-based district and her voting record lies to the ideological left of much of the House. According to National Journal’s 2011 vote ratings, Baldwin finished in a tie for the 21st most liberal member of the House. Republicans have vowed to wage a campaign casting her as considerably more liberal than the state as a whole.
Baldwin is openly gay and would be the first openly gay senator if she’s elected in November.
While Thompson’s moderate positions were detrimental in the primary, they won’t likely be in the general election. But his post-governmental career, much of which was spent on the lobbying circuit, will be a sure target of Democrats.
"This is a very good night for Tammy Baldwin. Tonight’s results provide Wisconsinites with a crystal clear choice between a fighter for the middle class like Tammy Baldwin and a self-serving multi-millionaire like Tommy Thompson who would cut taxes for the rich and pay for it by raising taxes on the rest of us, ending Medicare and privatizing Social Security," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee executive director Guy Cecil.