It looks more and more inevitable that former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson will be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate this November, pitting him against Democrat Tammy Baldwin.
Thompson, who served as Governor of the Badger State from 1987 to 2001 and later enjoyed a five-year run as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, is a favorite of conservatives.
Long before current Gov. Scott Walker sought to crack down on union workers' rights across the state, it was Thompson who ushered in a welfare crackdown and an expansion of school choice in Wisconsin.
The welfare crackdown was especially popular at the time. Dubbed Wisconsin Works, Thompson's program sought to eliminate unending welfare payments from the federal government to the jobless.
It is largely crediting with becoming the national model which then-President Bill Clinton signed in 1996, changing generations of welfare policy across the country.
After a failed presidential run in 2008, Thompson saw his chance to return to federal politics in late 2011, when veteran Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl announced he would not seek re-election.
After rising Republican star Rep. Paul Ryan of the House Budget Committee announced he would not run, Thompson's path became clearer.
He still faces three opponents - former Republican Rep. Mark Neumann, businessman Eric Hovde and Jeff Fitzgerald, the Republican head of the Wisconsin State Assembly, with GOP voters having to make up their minds in the August 14th primary election.
Thompson holds polling leads over all of his primary competition. Out of seven polls taken since February, as compiled by the political Web site Real Clear Politics, Thompson leads all of his potential GOP challengers.
Most recently, a mid-June poll by Marquette University found Thompson at 34 percent among all four GOP contenders - more than twice the amount of his next-nearest contender, Neumann, who had 16 percent.
Thompson's weakness may be his fund-raising - the one area where he has been unable to break away from the pack. The most recent records available from the Federal Elections Commission show Thompson at $790,000 in his campaign account, compared to $797,000 for Neumann, $1.6 million for Hovde and $34,000 for Fitzgerald.
There is only one Democrat lined up on the other side for the general election face off: Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a six-year member of the State Assembly and a congresswoman since 1999. She is the first woman Wisconsin voters have ever elected to either house of Congress and won her seventh term in 2010 with 62 percent of the vote.
Head-to-head matchup polls compiled by Real Clear Politics show she would beat Hovde and Fitzgerald but likely lose a close race to Neumann by about two points. Pitted against Thompson, the RCP polling average shows Thompson would win by more than 9 points.
by RTT Staff Writer
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