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GOP race heats up for nomination

By Matt Pommer

Mitt Romney and Tommy Thompson may be in similar political situations.

Both men appear to be the front-runners as they seek Republican nominations — Romney for the presidential ticket and Thompson for a U.S. Senate seat from Wisconsin. That situation seems in part caused by splinted efforts of Republican conservatives.

Thompson’s chief competitors for the GOP nod are former Congressman Mark Neumann and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald. Also, two fringe candidates have indicated they’ll try to get on the GOP primary ballot in August.

One late October poll showed Neumann and Fitzgerald with a combined 50 percent and Thompson with 43 percent of potential GOP voters.

Measured against only Neumann, Thompson had only a 4 percent advantage, close to the possible margin of polling error.

In a way, that’s similar to Romney, who won the Iowa caucus by eight votes but only because conservative voters scattered their votes among several right-wing candidates.

The anti-tax Club for Growth has endorsed Neumann in Wisconsin, and Fitzgerald played a major role in last year’s legislative efforts to gut public employee union power. Those are powerful conservative credentials.

Thompson, 70, was elected governor of Wisconsin four times, and he was known as a moderate. Some in the party joked he was the “Republican socialist.” He even won the endorsement of the Wisconsin State Employees Union in one of his successful re-election efforts.

Thompson also blocked the idea of allowing concealed carry in Wisconsin. He flatly told reporters the state didn’t need concealed weapon legislation.

Last year, the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker approved concealed carry. It had been a major issue among conservatives.

State tax and spending increased during Thompson’s years as governor. It slowed down in the mid-1990s when the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance noted inflation had pushed taxpayers into higher brackets.

Neumann, 57, twice was elected to Congress and then narrowly lost to Democrat Russ Feingold in the 1998 U.S. Senate race. More recently, he has lost GOP primaries for the U.S Senate and for governor. His name obviously is familiar to Republican primary voters.

Neumann first won a congressional seat as part of the 1994 Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich. Neumann has been an outspoken critic of homosexuality and gay marriages.

Fitzgerald, 45, is best known for his leadership in the Assembly. With recall politics hanging over Wisconsin this summer, his role in the anti-union effort could be attractive to Republican primary voters.

Both Fitzgerald and Neumann probably will paint Thompson as a Washington insider. Thompson resigned as governor in 2001 to join George W. Bush’s cabinet. Later, the ex-governor served corporate interests in Washington.

That could be an issue in the GOP primary.

Matt Pommer worked as reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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