TAMPA, Fla. - From a stage looking down on a beer and brat fest to fete Wisconsin, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, the man of the hour, gave the state's GOP Senate candidate, Tommy Thompson, a shout-out.
"I can't tell you how proud I am about Wisconsin, how proud I am about our leaders that have stepped up in Wisconsin. You're going to help us send Tommy Thompson to the United States Senate so Harry Reid is no longer Majority Leader," Ryan shouted to a large tent filled with beaming delegates.
While Ryan praised him, Thompson waved to try to get his attention and that of the Badger State's delegates as well, but to no avail. The former governor and cabinet head was blocked by a large crowd of people as he hastily walked in moments before Ryan's address, and the audience was otherwise transfixed by the vice presidential nominee.
The moment seemed to perfectly encapsulate the Wisconsin Senate race to date: In a state with a booming national influence, the all-important contest that could determine control of the Senate has been an afterthought.
But Republicans can't afford to neglect Thompson's race against Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D), despite recent polls showing him up by as much as 9 points, and Thompson's time in Tampa shows just that.
Though a campaign spokesman declined to release an official schedule, multiple GOP sources in the state said Thompson's trip to Florida reflects his pressing need to fundraise. He held a fundraiser on a yacht here Wednesday that was headlined by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn and a handful of other GOP Senators.
A brutal four-way primary has left Thompson with only $353,000 in cash on hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission disclosures. The former governor has raised approximately $2,367,000 to date while spending nearly $2,112,000 and chipping in $100,000 of his own money.
"The biggest question in my mind is whether or not there's going to be adequate resources for Tommy to get his message out," Walker, clad in a Green Bay Packers polo, told a gaggle of reporters at the brat fest. "Right now, coming off a primary, there's still a little bit of gap - as there often is after a primary. Congresswoman Baldwin has poured, is pouring, tons of money into ads almost exclusively about attacking Tommy Thompson." Walker continued by finding a political silver lining in the money gap and barrage of negative ads, adding, "I think that's a sign that they recognize that they've got nothing. If they run on Tammy Baldwin's record, they'll never win in the state of Wisconsin."
Earlier this month, Thompson won just 34 percent of the GOP primary vote, narrowly defeating two tea-party-backed opponents. He faced a multiple-front attack from conservative groups challenging his connections to President Barack Obama's health care law, his time as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and even his age. The conservative Club for Growth alone spent nearly $550,000 against him.
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