By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Eric Hovde’s wealth appears to be paying dividends.
Hovde, a Madison businessman, has surged into second place among the Republican candidates contending for Herb Kohl’s Wisconsin U.S. Senate seat, according to the latest Marquette Law School poll, released Wednesday.
That follows a report from left-leaning Public Policy Polling on Tuesday that showed Hovde actually leading former Gov. Tommy Thompson 31 percent to 29 percent.
Hovde’s assets make him the wealthiest of the candidates, and he has lent his campaign at least $1 million, according to financial statements reported last week by The Associated Press.
Hovde began running campaign ads weeks ago, well before the other candidates.
“The fact that he’s been able to run a very large, very extended advertising campaign without facing any negative responses from his opponents, has given him a fairly lengthy period of time to establish his image with voters without him being contested,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin, a visiting professor at Marquette Law School, who is conducting the polling series.
“We’ll see what happens in this last month in terms of how the other campaigns choose to run their campaigns and what happens as we get into the real heat of battle of this,” Franklin said.
Thompson, Hovde, former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, of District 1, and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, of Horicon, will compete in the Republican primary Aug. 14.
The winner will face U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-District 2, in November.
“(I know) Hovde’s been spending a ton of his own money, because I’ve been hearing his ads all over the place,” Marquette political scientist John McAdams said.
But, McAdams cautioned, “That’s easy to ridicule and say, ‘Isn’t that terrible that money is so powerful?’ But ultimately the voters get to decide.”
The Thompson campaign released a statement from consultant Darrin Schmitz, saying, “Tommy Thompson is holding a strong double-digit lead in the Republican primary despite misleading attacks by his opponents, suspect polls peddled by Eric Hovde and the Democrats, and being dramatically outspent by Hovde.
“Hovde has had the airwaves virtually to himself, but that is rapidly changing. Thompson’s strong 12-point lead over Hovde in the primary explains why the DC-based hedge fund manager is ratcheting up his negative attacks against Thompson.”
Hovde spokesman Sean Lansing dismissed criticism of the candidate’s wealth.
“I think it’s class warfare. It’s politics,” Lansing said. “That’s been a line of attack from Tammy Baldwin and the Democrats ever since Eric got in the race.”
Marquette Law School in Milwaukee polled 1,000 registered voters, by landline and cellphone, between Thursday and Sunday.
The poll included 810 likely voters and 432 likely GOP voters, with a margin of error of 4.8 percentage points for questions related to the Republican primary.
According to the poll:
- Thompson continues to lead, at 35 percent of likely primary voters.
- Hovde’s support has jumped to 23 percent, up from 14 percent in mid-June.
- Support for Neumann and Fitzgerald has declined in the past month, with Neumann dropping from 16 percent to 10 percent, and Fitzgerald from 10 percent to 6 percent.
- Thompson is the only candidate who beats Baldwin in head-to-head matchups, but his lead has shrunk from a month ago and is within the poll’s margin of error.
McAdams said the Republican contest is a two-way race — in a manner of speaking.
“Here you have Thompson and (whoever will be) the anti-Thompson,” he said. “And there’s sort of a three-way struggle being Hovde, Neumann and Fitzgerald, with Fitzgerald looking to me to be squeezed out.”