Thompson touts himself as conservative, bipartisan in tight Wisc. Senate race

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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“If you’re going to watch one senate race, it should be the one in Wisconsin,” said former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.

As the Republican nominee, he’s admittedly a bit biased, but much of the political world is watching as Thompson takes on Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin in what is expected to be one of the closest races of the cycle.

Recent polling has shown Baldwin with a narrow lead. An NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll conducted last week found her with a two-point edge, within the 3.2-point margin of error; a Rasmussen poll conducted in the same period put her up by three, also within the 4.5-point margin of error.

In a phone interview with The Daily Caller, Thompson attributed the gap to a grueling three-way primary that left him broke and unable to match Baldwin, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, on the airwaves.

“We ran out of money going into the last week of the primary, and as a result of that we had to recoup and raise the dollars to go for the general,” Thompson said, putting him at a “disadvantage” relative to the unopposed Baldwin.

“We had to go dark for a month [on television]. … As a result of that, the other side was able to use their negative ads,” Thompson explained. “Now we’re up, and we’re doing well. We’re very optimistic about the future.”

The two will face off Friday in their first debate, where what Thompson described as their “completely different views” will be on display.

In the primary, Thompson was often attacked as being too moderate, and repeatedly reiterated his conservative credentials. Now that he is in the general election, he describes himself as a conservative, but touts his record of bipartisanship.

“I’m a conservative, but I also believe very much in getting the job done,” he said.

He points to his record as governor, working with a Democratic state legislature and Senate to pass things like welfare reform and private school choice.

“I was able to successfully negotiate with the Democrats and get things done. That’s what’s missing in Washington, and that’s why I’m going to be a successful candidate and successful senator,” he said.

He says he would take that attitude to the Senate, where he thinks that Republicans and Democrats can find common ground to balance the budget and change the health care law. He pointed out that a number of the governors of other states whom he worked with while governor of Wisconsin are now U.S. senators or, like Maine Gov. Angus King, are running for the Senate.

Baldwin and her fellow Democrats do not describe Thompson in such flattering terms.

Her attacks and those run by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee paint Thompson as someone who wants to “gut Medicare” and give “tax breaks for millionaires,” describing him as a lobbyist who would be beholden to special interests.

Thompson accused Baldwin of “personally mischaracterizing me and absolutely lying” in those ads.

“I’m not a lobbyist — never have been — and she said I was a lobbyist. She says I live in Washington — I’ve never lived in Washington, I’ve always lived in Wisconsin. I came home every weekend when I was secretary,” Thompson said.

Politifact concluded that the “lobbyist” charge against Thompson was “half-true.” He was a partner at Akin Gump, which is a lobbying firm, but also a law firm. Thompson, a lawyer, was a partner at the firm and was never a registered lobbyist. But Politifact suggested that he could “limit such contacts, put his influence to work, and still fly beneath the rules” that would force him to disclose himself as a lobbyist.

Thompson, meanwhile, had few kind words for her in reply.

“She’s the most extreme liberal in the House of Representatives. She is on the left of Nancy Pelosi. She believes in government-controlled health care. She’s a spender, and I’m a reformer. She’s a taxer, and I cut taxes. She’s voted for over 157 tax increases,” he listed off.

“She believes in more government control, more rules and more regulations, more taxes, more government control of health care, more direction of who you should have as a doctor, and I’m just plain opposite. She wants to go towards almost a socialized, European country, and we’re standing in the way,” he went on.

In a number of reports in the past week, conservatives have questioned the Romney campaign’s strategy, particularly the way Wisconsin’s own Paul Ryan, the vice presidential nominee, is being used on the campaign trail. Some, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, opined that Ryan should be more visible. But Thompson was complimentary of the Romney campaign, attributing Walker’s comments to Wisconsin pride.

“We in Wisconsin are all big fans of Paul Ryan, and he is never being used enough from our perspective,” Thompson said. “We’d like to see him out every day in the spotlight, carrying the message, because we know how articulate and hardworking and how good he is. It’s a bias on our part.”

But Thompson made a point not to question the Romney campaign, giving them a vote of confidence.

“The worst thing you could do is Monday-morning quarterback a presidential or senatorial campaign,” he said. “The campaign knows full well where their strengths are and their weaknesses and what needs to be done. I am absolutely certain they recognize Paul’s tremendous asset and will use it to their advantage — that’s why they put him on the ticket. I am not critical at all of what Romney is doing. I think they had a bad week, and I think this week is going to be a very good week for the Republicans. I think we’ve seen the worst and now we’re going to see the best.”

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