Now that ex-Sen. Russ Feingold (D) has made his decision not to enter the 2012 open US Senate race in Wisconsin with Sen. Herb Kohl (D) retiring, the real campaign will now get underway. In particular, potential Democratic candidates were deferring to Feingold and holding back officially announcing their own campaigns in order to determine if the former senator would again enter the electoral fray. Now that he is officially out of the race, we can expect a series of people to soon announce for the seat.
In anticipation of the building candidate field from both parties in what will be a highly competitive campaign, Public Policy Polling released the results of their latest Wisconsin survey that handicaps the field in both party primaries.
For the Republicans, all eyes are on the 69-year-old former governor, Tommy Thompson, who was elected to four consecutive terms beginning in 1986. He left midway through his final term to become Secretary of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration. Though he still has not officially announced his Senatorial campaign, Mr. Thompson has openly talked about getting into the race. He is likely to be opposed by former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), who was first elected to the House for two terms in 1994 and ’96 before challenging and losing to Sen. Feingold in 1998, 48-51 percent.
On the Republican side of the ledger, PPP (Aug. 12-14; 362 “usual” Wisconsin GOP primary voters) tried a different approach, actually asking voters a “push” question after they indicated which candidate they would support. Predicting some of the attack points Neumann, and even the Democrats, will likely use against Thompson, the study produced interesting results.
In the straight ballot test question, Thompson leads Neumann 47-39 percent. The former governor’s personal approval rating among the Republican respondents is 74:17 percent positive to negative. Neumann’s is a sound 43:14 percent.
When PPP asked their loaded push question against Thompson, however, the results sharply turned. The question posed to the respondents was:
While Tommy Thompson was governor, he more than doubled state spending and increased government bureaucracy. Then he endorsed Obamacare, President Obama’s $1-trillion-dollar government takeover of health care. Given this information, would you vote for Mark Neumann or Tommy Thompson if the primary for Senate was today?
After hearing this question, Thompson dropped almost half of his previous support, from 47 percent all the way down to 26 percent. Neumann shot up from 39 percent to 59 percent. Thompson will have to respond hard to neutralize what are sure to be negative attacks of this type in both the primary and general elections.
Looking at the Democrats, the three most likely candidates are Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2), who will likely announce within days, Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3), who is not necessarily going to enter the race, and defeated Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI-8).
When PPP tested these names before 387 “usual” Wisconsin Democratic primary voters, Ms. Baldwin captured the decided advantage, leading 37-21-15 percent over Kind and Kagen, respectively. If Kind does not become a candidate, Baldwin then enjoys a 48-19 percent edge over Mr. Kagen.
Regardless of the outcome of both primaries, the Wisconsin Senate race will be one of the most hard-fought political battles in the 2012 election. The outcome of this race could conceivably decide which party will control the Senate majority in the next Congress.
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