By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
LA CROSSE – One week before Wisconsin’s partisan primaries, Tommy Thompson rolled out another big Republican name, picking up big money along the way in a push to secure the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.
“I believe we need a senator who actually knows what they’re doing,” Gingrich said during a news conference. “The Senate is a very hard institution today. It’s been very difficult for either party to get it to work. We need people who have the knowledge, the experience and the skills of getting things done.”
Thompson, who was elected to an unprecedented four terms as Wisconsin governor, has effectively been labeled conservative light by his closest GOP rivals – former 1st District Congressman Mark Neumann, millionaire real estate developer and hedge fund manager Eric Hovde. He’s been painted by the conservative Club For Growth as a government insider who presided over massive increases as governor.
Thompson has fired back, arguing that he was conservative before conservative was cool. To prove his point, he has enlisted the likes of Gingrich and Ted Nugent.
Gingrich tried to court tea party conservatives in his failed presidential run earlier this year. At one point during the race, Gingrich led the crowded field of Republicans but fell behind as the spotlight shined on the former Speaker of the House. His lobbying efforts for Freddie Mac, the troubled public-private mortgage financing company, particularly seemed to leave a bad taste in the mouths of voters hit hard in a real-estate and investment-driven recession.
In January, the Washington Post reported, “GOP candidate Newt Gingrich, who has said he never lobbied on behalf of his consulting clients, reported to a top lobbyist with Freddie Mac as part of a $25,000-a-month contract.” The article said the relationship spanned eight years and resulted in $1.8 million paid to Gingrich.
After running evenly with presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney in late 2011, Gingrich’s polling numbers plummeted in mid-February, to the low teens.
Thompson, like Gingrich, has lost his lead in early polling. In the final week of campaigning before the Aug. 14 primary election, Thompson now finds himself in a three-way statistical dead-heat with Hovde and Neumann, according to the latest liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling results, released last week. State Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, trails the field by double digits.
The parallels between Thompson and Gingrich draw beyond their respective races for office this year. Thompson made millions connected to lobbying after leaving his secretary position at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Thompson never registered as a lobbyist — like Gingrich — but since 2005 was paid $1.1 million by D.C. lobbying firm Akin, Gump, et al. He’s made more than $8 million in compensation as a consultant for firms connected to the health industry.
Thompson, at the press event Tuesday, said his plan to cap spending and revenue at 18 percent of GDP was the most conservative agenda of the four Senate candidates.
“I believe he could reach across the aisle and actually help make the Senate effective in a way no one else in this race could,” Gingrich said.
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