Former governor Tommy Thompson won the Republican Senate primary in Wisconsin on Tuesday, defeating businessman Eric Hovde, who spent millions of his own money on the campaign. Thompson will face Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin in the general election.
In other key contests, Rep. John L. Mica defeated Rep. Sandy Adams in an incumbent-vs.-incumbent GOP primary in Florida on Tuesday, while another Republican, Rep. Cliff Stearns, was fighting for his political life.
Mica, the chairman of the House transportation committee and a 19-year incumbent, beat the freshman Adams after tea party groups declined to take an active role on her behalf.
Thompson’s win was a victory for the Republican establishment, which has taken a beating in several Senate races this cycle, with conservative underdogs scoring upsets in Texas, Missouri and Indiana. Thompson’s long record of general-election success strengthens Republicans’ chances of taking over the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl.
Thompson, who served four terms as governor and later was health and human services secretary under President George W. Bush, withstood an intensely negative campaign against him. The anti-tax Club for Growth and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) backed former congressman Mark Neumann, who appeared headed for a third-place finish.
During the campaign, many conservatives took issue with politically moderate positions that Thompson had staked out in the past, including support for an individual health-insurance mandate. But he was helped by strong name recognition and a crowded field.
He will now set his sights on Baldwin, who had no competition for her party’s nomination and has been building a well-stocked campaign war chest. Thompson has struggled to raise money.
Baldwin represents a heavily Democratic Madison-based district, and her voting record lies to the left of much of the House. Republicans have vowed to wage a campaign casting her as considerably more liberal than the state as a whole. Democrats, meanwhile, are expected to attack Thompson’s work in the lobbying industry.
Baldwin would be the first openly gay senator if she is elected in November.
In Florida’s heavily watched 7th District race, Mica led Adams 61 percent to 39 percent, with all precincts reporting. The two had been drawn into the same district by a Republican-drafted redistricting plan, and although one of them could have run for an open seat next door, they opted to challenge each other.
Adams, who was backed by Sarah Palin, is the 11th House member to fall in a primary this year and the seventh to lose to another incumbent in a merged district.
Stearns, first elected in 1988, trailed veterinarian Ted Yoho 34 percent to 33 percent with all precincts reporting.
In Florida’s Senate contest, Rep. Connie Mack easily won the GOP primary, as expected, and will face Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in the fall, in what could be a close race.
In another notable Senate race, in Connecticut, Rep. Christopher S. Murphy (D) and former WWE chief executive Linda McMahon (R) cruised to their parties’ nominations.