MADISON, Wis. (AP) — There’s the millionaire businessman, the political giant, the tea party candidate and the rising star.
The GOP contenders for Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seat each represent a different facet of the party, and Republican voters will decide on Aug. 14 which best fits a volatile time in state and national politics.
The race for the seat, opened by the retirement of Democrat Herb Kohl, is a study in contrasts. There is no competition at all on the Democratic side. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who has served in the House since 1998, is running unopposed and will face the Republican winner in November.
But the Republican primary contest is intense and increasingly nasty, reflecting the divisions and tensions inside the party.
For months, former Gov. Tommy Thompson reigned as front-runner on the strength of being one of the best known names in Wisconsin politics, but his lead has begun to shrink as his opponents have hammered away at conservative themes that have roiled Republican races across the nation this year.
Leading opponent Eric Hovde, a hedge fund manager and political newcomer, has gone on the attack and begun to pour at least $4 million of his own money into the campaign.
Meanwhile, Mark Neumann, who served four years in Congress in the 1990s sandwiched between four unsuccessful runs for office, has moved to benefit from the surging tea party phenomenon.
A hardline conservative, he boasts the endorsements of South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and the Club for Growth, who have helped boost tea party candidates to victory in other states.
State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald has claimed the reflected glory of one of the GOP’s most celebrated triumphs in years — the capture of the Wisconsin statehouse from the Democrats in 2010 and the passage of sweeping anti-union legislation. He lags in fundraising but enjoys wide name recognition for his role in the legislative initiative.
The campaign has been dominated by negative advertising, with the candidates accusing one another of hypocrisy and shifting views. With a Republican electorate that has moved to the right, they have been arguing bitterly over who is the most conservative and who has
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