Senate Showdown: Wisconsin GOP Primary Looks Too Close to Call
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson and businessman Eric Hovde appear to be frontrunners, but many voters still undecided - which could help candidates Mark Neumann and Jeff Fitzgerald.
When conservative voters went to the polls in Wisconsin’s recent recall elections, their choice for candidates was pretty clear.
Tuesday’s U.S. Senate Republican primary, however, poses a difficult decision for voters — and a clear favorite is far from evident.
Hedge fund manager and businessman Eric Hovde; former Gov. Tommy Thompson; state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald; and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann will face each other in the statewide primary. The winner will advance to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin in the Nov. 6 election for the seat left vacant by the retirement of Democrat Herb Kohl.
Gov. Scott Walker, who has said he will remain neutral in the primary, said the quartet of candidates have combined to offer voters arguably the best conservative primary election in America.
Even typically outspoken radio talk show host, Mark Belling, acknowledged on the air last week that he is hesitant to publicly support a candidate because all four are strong choices.
And Wisconsin political experts say the race is an evenly matched primary, adding they are unable to pick out a clear winner.
Undecideds will be the key
Charles Franklin, professor of law at Marquette University, pointed to the high number of undecided voters as an indicator of how difficult a choice it is between the candidates.
Whereas in the gubernatorial and state Senate recall elections, only about 4 percent of voters were undecided near election day, that rate was at about 21 percent just one than a week before the U.S. race.
“I think there is a potential for a lot of last-minute decision making,” said Franklin, who oversees the Marquette Law School political polls.
John McAdams, associate professor of political science at Marquette, agreed the race is just too close to call.
“There is really not a candidate that excites huge enthusiasm among Republicans,” he said. “There are four candidates that Republicans are quite convinced are better than Tammy Baldwin.”
A seesaw battle has also ensued in the polls, and the lead has changed throughout the months of campaigning.
A survey released Wednesday by Marquette University Law School shows Thompson favored by 28 percent of the respondents, while Hovde comes in at 20 percent. Neumann was backed by 18 percent, while Fitzgerald garnered 13 percent.
But a poll released Thursday by the Public Polling Policy shows Hovde in the lead at 27 percent, with Thompson at 25 percent, Neumann at 24 percent, and Fitzgerald at 15 percent.
Patch spoke with all four candidates about their plans to fix the economy and reform health care. Patch also asked what makes them the best candidate in the field of four.
Jobs, Economy Are Top Issues
Thompson said the solution to kick-start the economy is to nurture a favorable environment for America’s largest companies, and encourage domestic investment. Thompson would like to slash the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, and repatriate company profits that are presently invested overseas. By creating incentives through tax reform, companies could be encouraged to invest a combined $1 trillion in profits domestically.
“Let’s be smart, let’s bring that money home and allow companies to have it tax free, if they invest in employment, factories, plants, and equipment,” Thompson said. “Roughly $1 trillion would come home, and it would be the largest stimulus package ever in the country, and it wouldn’t be funded by the government.”
Hovde said deregulation and lowering corporate tax rates were key to getting the nation back on track. Those moves also would put thousands back to work.
“America is home to the world’s highest corporate tax rate — 35 percent — and that is unacceptable. By lowering our rate to 25 percent, it is estimated that we can create 5.3 million private sector jobs over just 10 years,” Hovde said in an email to Patch.
Fitzgerald said the nation doesn’t need to look much further than Wisconsin for the model of reforms that will get the America’s economy on track. Lowering the corporate tax rate is key to gaining the country’s competitive edge once again in the global economy, Fitzgerald said. Regulatory reform is also needed to create a stable and reliable environment for businesses.
“We are not competitive in the global market anymore. Are you going to locate where you have to pay the highest corporate tax rate in the world?” Fitzgerald said. “Or will you go somewhere else to pay a lower tax rate? The second problem we see with businesses is that they are unwilling to add jobs or locate businesses. The current regulatory climate puts so much uncertainty out there. That’s hindering what we can do here.”
For Neumann, it’s about stripping the unnecessary to ease the budget woes.
“I’m the only candidate that has written a detailed plan that eliminates or cuts 150 government programs worth trillions of dollars,” Neumann said in an e-mail. “You can review the plan yourself at our website. That’s how we’ll jumpstart the economy and create jobs.”
'Obamacare' Must Go
Although the Affordable Care Act passed the constitutionality test of the Supreme Court in June, it’s hardly passed as an acceptable policy for conservatives. All four candidates are united in dedicating their voting power to dumping the law, but it’s the path to take the country on after repealing “Obamacare” that reveals differences among the the four candidates.
Thompson says the nation’s health care debate is a particular strength for his campaign. He claims that he is the only candidate to have actually crafted a plan to address citizen’s health care needs moving forward post repealing the health care reform law. Thompson wants to hand more power to the individual and create a system where health care providers would competitively bid for a person’s customized health care policy. He also wants to direct more focus on preventative care, and ensure that citizens who are seriously ill obtain the care they need, and hold down litigation against doctors.
“We spend $2.6 trillion on health care in this country. That’s 19 percent of our (Gross National Product),” Thompson said. “That’s more than any other country. We spend so much because we have a disease system. We spend 92 percent of health care dollars on getting people well after they get sick, and only 6 percent to keep you well in the first place.”
Fitzgerald once again said the best policy for health care in the United States can be found right here in Wisconsin. He said he fully supports U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s health care plan. He wants to develop a more market-driven approach to health care, rather than the top-down approach adopted by the Obama Administration.
“I’ve endorsed Paul Ryan’s plan, which is the only serious plan out there for entitlement reform. I don’t want to see a government run system. We need a market driven approach,” Fitzgerald said. “Obamacare will bankrupt this country. By the middle of the next decade, every dollar coming into this country will have to go for those four health care programs.”
Neumann, who has openly touted his desire and efforts in repealing Obamacare, said doing that alone will “restore a half a trillion dollars in Medicare funding.”
“Congress also needs to stop raiding the Social Security Trust Fund,” he said. “My conservative healthcare reform plan enacts tort reform to stop frivolous lawsuits, expands Health Savings Accounts, and allow interstate exchanges”
Entitlement reform is also a top issue for Hovde. He said it’s time to eliminate waste and fraud from the nation’s programs. He also proposed raising the retirement age.
“For Social Security, nothing changes for those who are currently age 50 and older. However, for those age 40 to 49, we need to increase the retirement age by two years,” Hovde said. “For those age 39 and younger, we need to increase the retirement age by four years. In addition we need to start means testing both Social Security and Medicare.”
Who is the True Conservative?
It’s one thing to run as a conservative by title, but quite another to demonstrate conservative values tangibly. All four candidates tout their conservative values, but they all claim to “walk the walk” as well.
Hovde said his conservative principles are evident in the plans he hopes to implement when in office.
“I have an aggressive tax plan that will lower rates across the board on individuals and businesses, and I have an eight-point economic plan that will: defeat the debt and balance the budget; reform our broken tax code; deregulate our economy; reform the Federal Reserve; reform the financial services industry; repeal and replace Obamacare; achieve real energy independence; and end cronyism,” he said.
Neumann points to his work to collect petitions opposing Obamacare, his time as a Wisconsin business owner and his “conservative” Congressional record as a reason for voters to consider him the most conservative candidate.
“I’m the proven conservative. Everyone says they’re a conservative, which is great, but I’m the only candidate rated Wisconsin’s 'Most Conservative' congressional member of the last 30 years," he said. " I’ve been endorsed by the biggest conservatives because they know I’ll stand up to Barack Obama,” he said, adding that his endorsements include Tea Party Express, Wisconsin Right to Life, Senators Jim DeMint, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Tom Coburn, and Mike Lee.
Fitzgerald said his unwavering dedication to Walker’s reforms in the state are a ringing example of demonstrating his conservative values amidst tension and public opposition. He said residents of Wisconsin saw this firsthand throughout the governor’s tumultuous first year in office.
“I think the past year-and-a-half as state Assembly speaker, people know my conservative values,” Fitzgerald said. “We passed one of the most conservative agendas in the history of Wisconsin”
Thompson said his resume speaks for itself. Many of the reforms the former governor implemented in his time leading Wisconsin were duplicated at the national level, and were and continue to be unprecedented.
“I’ve passed 91 tax cuts and put $16 billion back into the pockets of Wisconsin residents. I worked with businesses to create 742,000 jobs in the state. I was able to eliminate welfare in the state, and created school choice,” Thompson said. “No one has advocated for more conservative positions than I have.”
Though each candidate offers evidence of their conservatism, they aren’t that different from the outside looking in. Franklin, the Marquette pollster, said not one of candidates really stands out as more conservative than the other from his perspective - and apparently the voters.
“If it were easy to do (pick the most traditional conservative), the voters would have figured that out,” he said.
“What you have is a somewhat evenly balanced race,” said Marquette's McAdams. “They are all running as traditional conservatives … there’s not a liberal among them.”
That being said, McAdams said he believes Thompson is the candidate that has the biggest advantage when it comes to facing Baldwin in the November election.
“I think he is less subject to being successfully attacked by the Baldwin campaign,” McAdams said. “Baldwin, of course, will certainly attack Tommy Thompson … but it would be hard to scare people (away from) Tommy Thompson.”
No matter who comes out on top, experts are certain it’ll be a tight race between the Republican winner and Democrat Baldwin — and they expect competition to be fierce.
“Control of the Senate is really up for grabs," McAdams said. "That means a lot of money is going to pour into any tight Senate race in November, a lot of national money.”