Tommy Thompson used to be the biggest name in the Wisconsin GOP — now, he’s having trouble persuading the current party that he’s one of them.
Caught in a four-way Republican Senate primary, Thompson has a lot of ground to cover to win over the state’s new breed of conservatives.
The former four-term governor will face Wisconsin voters in a Republican primary on Aug. 14, along with self-financing businessman Eric Hovde, former Rep. Mark Neumann and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.
At a Q-and-A session with a tea party group in June, Thompson described himself as “way over on the right, but I’m also an individual that can get things done,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
But the Thompson campaign rejects any suggestion that the former governor has gone further to the right, or is seeking the support of folks like Nugent in order to appease tea party activists.
“Tommy Thompson’s record as governor put him at the forefront of the conservative movement,” spokesman Brian Nemoir told TPM. “Any effort to re-categorize Thompson as anything other than the governor who delivered historic tax relief, created 750,000 jobs and used his veto pen a record 1900 times to carve nearly $300 million out of state budgets is an unfortunate chapter in revisionist history. It is Tommy’s unrelenting conservative principles coupled with his defense of personal liberty which has earned him the friendship of American legends like Ted Nugent.”
Thompson has had a long and successful career in Wisconsin politics, but has not been on a ballot since 1998. Since he launched his Senate candidacy, some have wondered whether he is conservative enough for the contemporary GOP.
One recent ad by Thompson, in the effort reintroduce him to the state’s voters, shows him as a rugged outdoorsman on a motorcycle, pledging to repeal “Obamacare”:
Since serving in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet, Thompson has faced a transformed political environment back in Wisconsin, galvanized by Gov. Scott Walker’s ongoing battle with public employee unions and his subsequent recall election win. By comparison, Thompson’s relationship with the public unions was so constructive over time, that AFSCME endorsed him in 1994 and 1998.
It is that record, along with various tax and fee increases he imposed as governor — that has led the conservative Club for Growth, which is supporting Neumann, to attack Thompson as “taxin’, spendin’ Tommy” in a recent ad.
Another influential conservative group, FreedomWorks, is backing Hovde. Hovde has been pitching himself in the same outsider mold that catapulted another Republican self-financier, Sen. Ron Johnson, to victory in 2010.
The PollTracker Average currently shows Thompson with 32.7 percent, Hovde with 27.7 percent, Neumann with 13.7 percent and Fitzgerald with 7.3 percent.