Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Wisconsin Republicans fail to endorse a U.S. Senate candidate

Tommy Thompson never got above 20 percent

Wisconsin Republicans met on Saturday in a convention to endorse a candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat that will be on the ballot this fall. But they deadlocked and couldn’t endorse.

That’s unusual, but perhaps more surprising is how badly Tommy Thompson did. The four-time former governor and once the dominant figure in the Wisconsin Republican politics was eliminated on the second ballot when he failed to get above 20 percent. Thompson can, and presumably will still compete for the nomination in the August primary, where his money and name recognition may help him significantly in what could be a four-way race if all of the candidates who sought the endorsement stay in.

All of this has to help U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who has a clear path to the Democratic nomination. If elected, Baldwin would be the first openly gay senator in U.S. history.

This is the seat that is open in 2012 because long-time Dem incumbent Herb Kohl decided to retire. At present, Charlie Cook lists the race as a toss-up. Stu Rothenberg lists it in his quirky “tilt” category as “toss-up, tilts Democratic.” We’ll see if Saturday’s news, which weakens Thompson and requires Wisconsin Republicans to hold an August 14 primary, will change the ratings on the race. For now, it’s assumed that four candidates will contest the primary and prevent the party from unifying behind a candidate for three more months.

Article continues after advertisement

On Saturday’s final ballot, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon edged former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, 51.5% to 48.5%. But, as in Minnesota, 60 percent is required for endorsement. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said it was a surprisingly strong showing for Fitzgerald, who has lagged in fundraising and polling.

Thompson, elected governor four times, was knocked off in the second ballot with 18.5% of the vote. Madison hedge fund manager Eric Hovde was eliminated in the first ballot.

In Minnesota, traditionally, when one candidate gets above 50 percent, the rest of the field drops out and concedes the endorsement. But there is no requiring that in either state. The last major statewide Minnesota race in which the party was unable to reach an endorsement was in 1996 when former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz and former Commerce Commissioner Bert McKasy deadlocked after 14 ballots.

Fitzgerald ignited the crowd

Fitzgerald apparently helped his cause with a speech that associated him with Gov. Scott Walker’s bill to greatly reduce collective bargaining rights for public employees unions. Here’s how the Journal Sentinel described it:

“In his speech, he told the base he and his brother, Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, were the ones to deliver the votes for Walker’s controversial plan to all but end collective bargaining for public workers amid weeks-long protests. He said that distinguished him from his opponents.

‘What is different about the four of us?” he said. “Well, I believe I can tell you I’m the only candidate who has had a lot of death threats in the last 15 months.

‘We knew the status quo was no longer acceptable, that we had to stop kicking the can down the road. . . . And, boy, did we get a reaction.’

He also touted other legislative accomplishments, such as putting limits on property taxes, requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls and allowing people to carry concealed weapons. The voter ID law has been suspended by two courts but is under appeal.”

The primary campaign that will decide the Repub nomination will continue to be overshadowed for a few more weeks by the campaign to recall Walker.