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Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012

Tammy vs. Tommy for Wisconsin Senate Seat

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The most amazing outcome of the Republican Party state primary for the U.S. Senate wasn't that Tommy Thompson, elected four times as Wisconsin's governor, emerged as the nominee.

What was truly amazing was that Thompson, once the undisputed champion of Republican state politics, won by the skin of his teeth, receiving only a third of the vote in a Republican primary.

There's every reason to believe Thompson, who won by only three percentage points, would have been defeated in a two-way race if the anti-Thompson vote hadn't been split among three opposition candidates. Two-thirds of Republicans wanted someone else.

Now that Thompson is in a two-way race against Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, don't believe anyone who says Thompson's the favorite because he was once a popular figure in this state.

It's true Republicans nationally believe their party dodged a bullet because any of the other three even more extreme Republicans would have been easier for Baldwin to beat.

But Thompson escaped bloodied from that savage primary. Most voters were clearly looking for a much fresher face than Thompson's nearly 71-year-old one.

The state Republican Party Thompson ruled back in 1998 doesn't exist anymore.

Many of Thompson's major accomplishments—guaranteeing two-thirds state funding for public education, championing Wisconsin as a central link for business-expanding high-speed rail, protecting stem cell research at UW-Madison, supporting national health care reform—are now actively despised within his party.

Republicans don't want government accomplishing anything these days. That's why they've even been so anti-American as to block job-creation efforts during the second worst economic disaster in U.S. history.

And that's why the Tea Party Express, the mean-spirited driving force in today's party, was tearing through Wisconsin and trashing Thompson's candidacy during the primary.

Other right-wing Republican groups spent millions of dollars on television ads attacking Thompson.

To defend himself from other Republicans, the former governor had to spend millions of dollars. Baldwin, meanwhile, was amassing a formidable campaign fund to take on Thompson when he crawled out from all that right-wing carnage.

To win, Thompson also had to inflict some damage upon himself. In a Tea Party world, Thompson, like presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has to dishonestly dance around many of his previous positions that are no longer acceptable within his party.

Maybe that's why Thompson seems so angry these days. His bombastic style was always ridiculed outside the state when he attempted a couple of largely unnoticed runs for the presidency. But, within Wisconsin, Thompson was considered a happy warrior who jumbled his syntax through excessive enthusiasm.

Thompson doesn't seem nearly so upbeat these days. Wearing his motorcycle jacket and yelling loudly, he sounds more like a bully trying to show everybody how tough he is.

Fresh Face for Wisconsin

Baldwin also could be a much stronger candidate than the ones burdened with tremendous baggage who had Thompson on the ropes in the primary.

For all those turned off by the ugly street brawling of today's politics, Baldwin could be the fresh face they've been looking for.

This would appear to be an extremely opportune time for a woman to finally break through the petrified male political dominance that has lasted decades longer here than in most other states.

President Barack Obama still appears to be running ahead in the state, even after Romney added Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. Ryan has never run a statewide race and represents only an eighth of the state.

Polls show Obama benefits in Wisconsin and nationwide from an enormous gender gap, as women voters are increasingly repelled by Republican opposition to contraception dictated by the antiquated male hierarchy of the Catholic Church and Republican defunding of Planned Parenthood's life-saving cancer screenings for women.

The ability of both Obama and Baldwin to turn out women voters is mutually beneficial. So is the enormous appeal of both in Dane County.

Thompson would have lost the Republican primary if he hadn't won by a large margin in his previous kingdom of Madison. No one seriously expects Thompson will do as well against Baldwin, the district's extremely popular congresswoman.

This isn't the Tommy Thompson older voters remember. This is a brand-new multimillionaire Thompson who, since leaving government, suddenly has a net worth between $13.1 million and $44 million, according to intentionally vague disclosure forms.

Like other highly placed multimillionaire Republican candidates this year, Thompson is now running to represent millionaires and billionaires, while refusing to release his tax returns so voters can see exactly where all that money came from and who really owns him.

Some see the Senate race between Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson as a contest between today's politics and yesterday's politics.

But a new Tommy also is running against the nearly extinct older model. Voters who remember the old Tommy may not like the reconditioned, multimillionaire, Tea-Party-pandering version.