By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MILWAUKEE — It may not be the Thrilla in Manila, but if Tuesday’s separate public appearances in Milwaukee by Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson are any indicator, the fight for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin is about to pick up.
After a lull following Thompson’s GOP primary win in mid-August (let’s call it his weigh-in), Baldwin came out swinging in round one.
“People are looking for somebody who’s fighting for them, not for the big, powerful interests in Washington, D.C.,” Baldwin jabbed at Thompson after a Rotary Club luncheon. “And the choice for the Senate seat is very clear between myself and my opponent. I’ve been fighting for hard-working, middle-class families.”
Baldwin’s campaign ads have typically ended with an ominous, apocalyptic voice telling Wisconsinites, “Tommy Thompson: he’s not for you anymore.”
On Tuesday, she told reporters Thompson “joined forces with a lobby-shop” and “was advocating for and advising those special interests,” a reference to Thompson’s post-Health and Human Services secretary role with Akin-Gump, a powerful K Street lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.
Thompson, a former Wisconsin governor, has seen his net worth swell like a busted eye to more than $13 million since leaving Madison.
“Wisconsin hard-working families, middle-class families need a champion, need a fighter and that’s what I’ve always done. I’ve stood up to the powerful interests in Washington,” she reiterated.
Considered the underdog in this fight, Baldwin, who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House, sent the message to voters that “it’s important to elect someone who hasn’t drawn lines in the sand or signed pledges.”
She picked another fight with an even bigger opponent: The People’s Republic China, saying there was “direct evidence of cheating” in its industry, drawing on “Made in the USA” populism.
Like candidates on both sides of the aisle, Baldwin called for “a level playing field” in international trade, and said she would support tariffs on Chinese goods benefiting from government subsidies.
“In Wisconsin we stand for a level playing field,” the congresswoman from Madison answered when asked if she worried about provoking a trade war with China via tariffs. “We know if we have a level playing field, our workers are going to win out every time because we have such a stronger work ethic in this state. What we see in the global marketplace — we see cheating going on. China has been cheating particularly in the paper industry and in a couple industries that are key to Wisconsin’s economy. I think we have to fight back and insist upon fairness and a level playing field.”
China and the United States recently filed complaints with the World Trade Organization, each accusing the other of excessive tariffs and doling out subsidies for various industries. In one case, President Barack Obama simultaneously praised his own auto bailout, while attacking Chinese auto subsidies.
Tariffs, a tool for domestic economic protectionism, have the effect of increasing the price of foreign goods and services for consumers.
HOURS LATER, IN WHAT AMOUNTED to a photo-op, Thompson toured the Milwaukee-based Ludman Industriesplant, which manufactures compactors, granulators, flaking and shredding mills.
When asked whether he agreed with Baldwin’s stance on China, Thompson bobbed and weaved, and delivered a blow of his own to Baldwin:
“I think it’s amazing Congresswoman Baldwin’s been in Congress 14 years and has only passed three simple resolutions. … Now she wants to save the world when she’s running,” he said. “She’s been there for 14 years and has done nothing in foreign affairs about the Chinese situation, has done nothing about the fact that Egypt and Libya are going to get a billion dollars. I believe it’s time for us in America to stick up for our friends and not give money to our enemies.”
Baldwin, a staunch anti-Iraq war advocate in Congress, has voted for sanctions on Iran and the initial use of military force in Afghanistan. She now calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Thompson also dodged Baldwin’s attacks for being too obstinate to work in the Senate for Wisconsinites by reminding reporters he was earlier criticized for being too quick to compromise by Club for Growth and his Republican opponents in the senate primary.
Chuckling, he said, “To come from Tammy Baldwin, who is the most liberal member of the House of Representatives” — so far to the left, he said, that
“Nancy Pelosi has to turn left to talk with her — that’s quite a stretch.”
Thompson, undefeated in four statewide elections — six including primaries — added power to his rhetorical punch.
“It’s almost humorous to think Tammy Baldwin, who has had such a rigid, philosophical bent, so liberal, even have the guts to say that she is one that compromises . . . . I’m the one that has the record of working with individuals,” he said, citing the passage of welfare reform and school choice during his reign as governor while Democrats controlled the legislature.
Virtually unheard of since the primary in the senate race, Thompson — who may have been busy training for this fight with his now infamous push-up routine — admitted to reporters his campaign went in the hole about a million dollars to win the primary.
Thompson said he travelled the state, raising money and continued the offensive against Baldwin while trying to fortify his position as favorite. “I feel very comfortable about the future of this race. And I think the fact that she has been negative since day one pretty much tells you that her internal polls says the only way she can win is to tear down and demagogue. And that’s what the Democrats got: they have no plans. Have you ever seen a plan from the Democrats at all on balancing the budget?”
The two will square off in round two in the first of three scheduled debates on September 28.
Contact Ekvall at email@example.com