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Week in Review: Polls, warring politicians top week in politics

By   /   August 3, 2012  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — It’s beginning to look like these GOP contenders for Wisconsin’s open U.S. Senate seat don’t like each other very much.

The same could be said for an increasingly bitter race between two liberals in the 2nd Congressional District race.

With the clock ticking down to the Aug. 14 partisan primary, one thing is certain: the gloves are off.

Tommy tumbles, Neuman climbs

It was a tough week for Tommy Thompson.

The former four-term Wisconsin governor and, until recently, presumed front-runner in the race for the seat opening up with the retirement of long-serving Democrat U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl has tumbled in the latest polls.

Wednesday’s poll from liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling shows multimillionaire and political newcomer Eric Hovde leading the four-man field of Republicans, with 28 percent, followed by Thompson and a surging Mark Neumann, a former 1st District congressman, tied at 25 percent.

The candidates are running in a statistical dead heat, well within the 4.9 percent margin of error, according to PPP’s poll of 400 likely Republican primary voters conducted earlier this week.

State Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, who as Assembly Speaker last session helped guide Gov. Scott Walker’s conservative agenda to passage, lagged well behind at 13 percent.

After several weeks of nasty attack ads, all around mud-slinging and feisty debates, Thompson has seen his comfortable lead plummet in the most recent polls, while Neumann rises and Hovde seems to just hang on to the numerical top spot.

“Tommy Thompson’s position is looking more and more perilous as his establishment Republican brethren lose one primary after another,” Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, said in a statement “This has become an exciting three way contest and it’s impossible to say what will happen in the last two weeks.”

Thompson, who has consistently tracked ahead of all comers, including the Democrats’ U.S. Senate candidate, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, polled as high as 39 percent in PPP’s February poll.

PPP said the momentum is on Neumann’s side.

The Janesville businessman who, like Thompson, has earned endorsements from some conservative national heavyweights, has gained 10 percentage points during the past month, rising from 15 percent to 25 percent in the PPP poll.

Warring liberals

The heat is on, too, in the 2nd Congressional District where two Madison liberals are trying to out-liberal each other, attacking along the way.

State Rep. Kelda Roys has fired a number of salvos at fellow Democrat state Sen. Mark Pocan, the apparent front-runner for the congressional seat long held by Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison. Baldwin is the Democrats candidate for U.S. Senate, going up against whomever comes out alive in the GOP primary.

Roys has blasted her primary challenger, asserting Pocan “failed” to take on Walker and Republicans, and that he “caved in” by supporting a Republican-backed corporate tax credit bill.

Pocan fired back in a campaign ad, saying that Roys was running a “smear campaign.”

The Democratic candidates are expected to appear at a forum on Monday, and a debate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Tuesday.

Candidates’ debate

All four of the lead GOP candidates for Wisconsin’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race appeared at a debate Monday, marking the first time these bitter rivals have shown up to the same debate since the campaign began.

While the rivals threw verbal jabs and blasted negative advertisements and past voting records, their prescriptions for American policy could have come from the same doctor.

Each candidate tried to appear more conservative than the next. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, who is in last place in the latest polls, pointed to his record as Assembly speaker during last year’s tumultuous legislative session.

The candidates continued to debate one another on conservative pedigree, each asserting a political urgency.

“Our country is on fire,” Hovde said about attack ads from Thompson and Neumann. “We’re heading off a financial cliff. And instead of talking about the issues that are meaningful and how to get our country turned around, since the day I got into this race I’ve had career politicians that have done nothing but attack me.”

Neumann and Thompson criticized Hovde for running a negative campaign.

War on waste

The latest quarterly report by the Waste, Fraud and Abuse Elimination Task Force, commissioned by Gov. Scott Walker, says changes in state government have resulted in millions of dollars in savings to taxpayers.

The report doesn’t specify the total savings generated to date, but an earlier bipartisan Commission on Waste, Fraud and Abuse outlined its recommendations to annually save state and local governments $455 million.

“We have already begun to implement some of the commission’s recommendations and these reforms have saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars,” Walker said in the report’s opening letter.

Among the more impactful, if not initially controversial, cost reductions involve overtime pay at the state Department of Corrections.

Act 10, the Walker-led law that reformed collective bargaining for most unionized public employees, allowed the DOC to change the rules of the game in overtime. Doing so saved the agency and the taxpayers who fund it some $2.1 million in the latest quarter, which ended June 30, according to the task force. That’s a decline of nearly 90 percent.

Before Act 10, corrections workers with the most seniority and, consequently, the highest pay grades got first crack at overtime in accordance with union contracts. Corrections staff also could pick up overtime on vacation or sick time. Reports showed some employees racking up big paychecks by taking time off and then picking up extra shifts.