Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson pulled off a victory in the Republican Senate primary Tuesday, and will represent his party in the general election against Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin in a race that is expected to help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.
The Associated Press called the race with 81 percent of precincts reporting. Thompson led with 34.5 percent of the vote, having finally pulled away from businessman Eric Hovde.
Thompson, a popular four-term governor, came into the race as the front-runner. But recent polls showed him in a tough three-way race with Hovde and former Congressman Mark Neumann. A fourth candidate, state assembly speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, trailed in the polls for most of the race, and conceded the race before the count was complete.
As the early favorite, Thompson bore the brunt of attacks from his opponents — most notably from the Club for Growth, which backed Neumann. That organization’s super PAC spent $1.7 million on independent expenditures. One particularly damaging ad showed Thompson seemingly expressing support for some of the reforms in the Affordable Care Act, a politically toxic measure among Republicans.
The attacks damaged his popularity among voters, polls showed, tightening the race. Heading into Tuesday’s primary, some expected an upset, Politico reported. Neumann, who had seen the most recent surge in the polls, seemed a likely candidate. But as the votes continued to pour in, Neumann trailed behind.
Thompson managed to hold his lead, and even before the Associated Press called the race in his favor, pundits called it for the former governor. Republican National Committee Chairman and fellow Wisconsinite Reince Priebus tweeted, congratulating him on an “impressive victory.”