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Wisconsin GOP Senate field gets crowded all of a sudden

By   /   August 29, 2011  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Let the 2012 Wisconsin political games begin.

Former 1st District U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann made it official Monday morning, announcing his run for the Senate seat held by U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat, who is retiring.

Neumann broke the news on conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes midday program on AM 620 WTMJ Milwaukee.

“We really appreciate the encouragement we’ve received to run for the United States Senate. Today we made it official that we are entering the race. Thanks again for all the support,” Neumann said on his Facebook page.

Not long after Neumann entered the race, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, announced that he is seeking the U.S. Senate seat.

Fitzgerald, who told Sykes on Friday that he was “99 percent sure” he would run, made it official Monday during a meeting with the Wausau Daily Herald Editorial Board.

Fitzgerald, praised by the right and lambasted by the left for shepherding Gov. Scott Walker’s balanced budget and fiscal reform measures through the Assembly, told the newspaper he would bring his experience to Washington.

“We have the same problems here (in Wisconsin) as we have in D.C.,” he told the Herald, noting excessive taxation.

All of a sudden, the Republican field of Senate contenders got congested after weeks of speculation.

News that Fitzgerald and Neumann jumped into the Senate race came as little surprise to insiders, but it could, pundits say, hasten former Gov. Tommy Thompson‘s plunge into the Senate race. While Thompson remained on the sidelines Monday — with every indication he will run — a kind of conservative litmus test has emerged.

Some high-ranking conservatives are critical of Thompson’s more moderate record as long-serving Wisconsin governor and as Health and Humans Services secretary under President George W. Bush. The argument has heated up between Thompson’s people and supporters of Neumann.

“He was kind of a tea party Republican before there was a tea party movement,” said Rodd Freitag, associate professor and chairman of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire political science department.

Still, Freitag and other pundits see Neumann as an outsider against the hugely popular Thompson. That’s why, the political science professor said, it was critical that Neumann get a head start.

Newmann, who finished behind Walker in last year’s GOP gubernatorial primaries and finished just behind former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold in a hotly contested U.S. Senate race in 1998, has had his share of political heartbreak.

Fitzgerald has notched plenty of success, particularly in a furious string of GOP victories, especially during the spring session. But political insiders wonder if he has the kind of statewide recognition and respect Thompson engenders.

Thompson’s camp welcomed Neumann to the race.

Then, Thompson consultant Darrin Schmitz fired a warning shot at Neumann.

“Mark Neumann should use his announcement today to tell his former employees and Washington, D.C., allies he will not tolerate additional distortions of Governor Thompson’s record,” he wrote. “Not doing so will send a clear message to Republican voters that Mark Neumann intends to run yet another campaign full of lies and mudslinging.”

The release takes aim at what the Thompson camp sees as Neumann’s “smear tactics” in his campaign against Walker, and the assertions by Neumann’s backers that the former governor isn’t conservative enough.

Neumann’s announcement stirred chortles from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Chairman Mike Tate called Neumann a disciple of Walker and Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-1st District.

“Answering the groundswell apparently occurring only in the far corners of Scott Walker’s radical ‘Tea Party’ movement in Wisconsin, Mark Neumann has once-more embarked on another losing candidacy,” Tate said in a statement.

The announcements from Fitzgerald and Neumann follow Feingold’s decision to bow out of political competition in 2012. The Democrat, who was defeated by businessman Ron Johnson in 2010, said he’s comfortable teaching law at Marquette University in Milwaukee and writing his book on foreign policy, although Feingold left open the possibility of stepping back on the political stage at a later date.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, is considered to be the Democrats heir apparent in the Senate race. Baldwin is expected to make an announcement around Labor Day.