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In Wisconsin, Conservatives Find New Target

Club for Growth, Two Primary Foes Have Set Sights on Thompson

Eric Thayer/Getty Images
Some conservatives have targeted former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson for deficits and increasing the size of the state’s government and have used his failed run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 to gin up the same anti-establishment sentiment that has cost other candidates their races.

Tommy Thompson is the next establishment Republican that conservative groups are looking to topple.

The former Wisconsin governor is in the fight of his political career as he attempts to win the GOP nomination for the state's open Senate seat. Two lesser-known Republicans, former Rep. Mark Neumann and state Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, are aiming to best him in the primary, and Neumann has fuel from the influential Club for Growth.

Similar scenarios have played out across the country since the tea party burst onto the political scene. Though Thompson is a once-bright political star in the state and the best-known candidate, a volatile electorate and a late primary could put him on the sidelines.

Democrats have cleared the field for Rep. Tammy Baldwin to be the party's nominee, so the Republicans will clash in a primary that will not be held until August.

Thompson was elected to four terms as governor and served as secretary of Health and Human Services in President George W. Bush's administration. Some conservatives have targeted him for deficits and increasing the size of Wisconsin's state government and have used his failed run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 to gin up the same anti-
establishment sentiment that has cost other candidates their races.

The loudest and earliest anti-
Thompson group is the Club for Growth, which endorsed Neumann. Enraged over what members view as a fiscally troublesome record, the club has launched an all-out effort to try to block Thompson from getting the nomination. That includes an August television ad starring President Barack Obama, who lauded Thompson in a 2009 weekly address for backing an early version of the Democrats' health care law. PolitiFact Wisconsin rated the ad "half-true" and Thompson now refers to the law as "Obamacare." Wisconsin radio station WRN reported last month that Thompson thought "a good share of the law" would be upheld as constitutional, but he sounded GOP talking points: "I think, overall, Obamacare should be eliminated, and I think things should be done to replace it."

Would the club back Thompson in a general election should he win the nod? No.

"We don't support people based on party, we support people based on principles. If you don't have principles to stand on, we won't support you," spokesman Barney Keller told Roll Call.

But Thompson's campaign bashed the club as a Washington, D.C., group telling "lies" and said voters remember the former governor as having cut taxes and created school choice and welfare reform.

"Attacking Tommy Thompson is like attacking Wisconsin," his spokesman Darrin Schmitz told Roll Call. "It will backfire."

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