By M.D. Kittle and Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — The two titans of Wisconsin's highly watched GOP Senate race are each claiming victory in the campaign money chase.
And each has a case to make, depending on how you crunch the numbers.
Meanwhile, an also-ran is bowing out of the race, leaving three to contend for the GOP nomination to replace long-serving U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat, who is retiring.
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson on Monday announced his campaign had raised north of $656,000 in the last three months of 2011.
The candidate has about $540,000 in cash on hand, according to a campaign news release.
The announcement was in advance of Tuesday’s Federal Election Commission campaign filing deadline. Because the Thompson campaign said it is not filing electronically, it could be a couple of days before the full report is on the FEC website, a commission employee told Wisconsin Reporter.
Thompson, who entered the race in October, outpaced his closest rival, former 1st District U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, who took in $518,000 over the period, according to the campaign.
But Neumann, who jumped into the race in September, had raised $820,000 through the end of the year, according to the campaign.
“Mark Neumann is not only the most conservative candidate in the race, he’s raised the most money,” said Neumann campaign manager Chip Englander.
Hold on a minute, said the Thompson campaign, noting the former governor officially launched his campaign in early December — although his campaign war chest opened in September.
Thompson consultant Darrin Schmitz said the former governor leads in all primary and general election polls, and that the candidate clearly has the momentum.
“Whether it’s his strong finance report, his lead in the polls or the depth of his endorsements, it’s clear Thompson is exceptionally well-positioned for both the primary and elections,” Schmitz said in a news release, sent after Wisconsin Reporter requested an interview with the campaign.
Thompson and Neumann have the backing of some pretty powerful Republicans — including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee; and Mike Johanns, Nebraska; for Thompson, and U.S. Sens. Rand Paul, Kentucky; Tom Coburn, Oklahoma; and Jim DeMint, South Carolina, for Neumann.
As far as the money chase goes, the Neumann campaign sounded confident leading up to the August GOP primary.
“Primary day is on the same day for everyone, and the money you’ve raised for the primary is the money you have,” Englander said, noting Neumann’s base is broader than Thompson’s.
The Neumann camp said it has picked up 7,450 individual donations over the past four months, while Schmitz said Thompson tracked donations from about 1,900 people during the latest three-month reporting period.
Also in the race is Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, who had yet to announce his fundraising figures as of late Monday.
Fitzgerald’s campaign officials did not return phone calls from Wisconsin Reporter.
In an interview with Wisconsin Reporter earlier this month, Fitzgerald, who called himself the race’s “dark horse,” said it may be hard to compete on the fundraising field with the likes of Thompson and Neumann, but he has built a strong conservative resume.
“I’m the speaker who delivered the largest tort reform in the nation, photo ID, concealed carry and the castle doctrine,” he said, further noting the Republicans’ budget that wiped out a $3.6 billion shortfall.
The only Democrat in the dance, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who represents Wisconsin's 2nd Congressional district, has outraised both of the top Republicans combined.
Baldwin, of Madison, has said her campaign raised $1.1 million during the past quarter, and had $1.8 million in cash on hand.
“This shows our strength, and these resources will be critical in responding to the false, negative right-wing attacks to come our way,” said the campaign on Baldwin’s Facebook page.
Englander said Baldwin’s fundraising lead shows that Baldwin, “America’s most liberal congresswoman” is “exciting donors in Hollywood.”
Because the finance reports had not appeared online Monday, there was no way to track contributors to the campaigns.
Bowing out of the Republican race was state Sen. Frank Lasee, who represents the state’s 1st Senate District from his hometown DePere.
“After much consideration and prayer with my wife, Amy and I have determined this is not the right time to run for U.S. Senate,” Lasee said in a statement. He did not return phone calls from Wisconsin Reporter.
“My campaign has received a lot of support throughout the state and we deeply appreciate the volunteers, new and familiar friends who believed in me and our message of limited constitutional government.”
The Neumann and Thompson camps wished Lasee well. He had been tracking a distant fourth in the low single digits in recent polls. The candidates looked to reach out to the conservative’s base.
Charley Jacobs, assistant professor of political science at St. Norbert College in De Pere, said Lasee's leaving is all part of a rapid winnowing process.
“This year, Republicans will look to get nominations wrapped up early,” he said, asserting that it’s doubtful Lasee will carry much influence in the race because of his early departure.