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Is Wisconsin's GOP Senate Primary Now a Two-Man Race?

Two polls released this week show political newcomer Eric Hovde leading the Republican field of U.S. Senate candidates in one and coming in second to former Gov. Tommy Thompson in another.

Is Wisconsin's GOP Senate Primary Now a Two-Man Race? Is Wisconsin's GOP Senate Primary Now a Two-Man Race?

The Aug. 14 Republican primary for U.S. Senate looks like a two-man race between Eric Hovde and former Gov. Tommy Thompson, according to two polls released this week.

The Marquette University Law School poll results released Wednesday still have Thompson in the lead among likely GOP primary voters with 35 percent to Hovde's 23 percent. In June, the same poll had Thompson at 34 percent and Hovde at 14 percent.

GOP candidate Mark Neumann comes in at 10 percent, down from 16 percent in June, while candidate Scott Fitzgerald dropped from 10 percent to 6 percent.

The Marquette poll was released one day after a Public Policy Polling survey showed Hovde leading Thompson, 31 percent to 29 percent. Against Baldwin in the November election, Hovde also leads, 45 percent to 44 percent.

The Marquette survey results were released during a monthly edition of "On the Issues" with broadcaster Mike Gousha and Professor Charles Franklin, director of the poll.

"New July numbers seem to suggest Hovde’s campaign has been more active and getting his name out more, which seems to have made a difference," Franklin said. "But I would caution against saying this is a two-person race with 25 percent of voters still undecided."

When it comes to the November general election, the Marquette poll shows that Thompson receives 45 percent to Baldwin’s 41 percent. In June, Thompson had 49 percent to Baldwin’s 41 percent.

When matched against Hovde, Baldwin comes out on top 44 percent to 38 percent. Baldwin receives 43 percent to Neumann’s 40 percent. Baldwin also receives 43 percent to Fitzgerald’s 37 percent.

Baldwin's campaign put out a statement shortly after the Marquette poll was released.

The Republican primary vote is clearly divided and their race will now become increasingly divisive and negative. Only one candidate has faced over $1.4 million of attacks. Tammy Baldwin has been tested and we remain ahead and competitive in the general election match ups against all the Republican candidates. Now we will see if the Republican candidates can stand the heat of their own attacks on each other.”

In mid-June, Baldwin and Neumann were tied at 44 percent each; Baldwin held a 45-36 advantage over Hovde and a 45-39 margin over Fitzgerald.

The Marquette poll was conducted from July 5 to 8. Questions about the were asked of 810 likely voters and have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The results for 432 likely voters in the Republican primary has a margin of error of 4.8 percentage points.

 The margin of error for the Public Policy Polling is 3 percentage points among 1,057 likely voters and 4.1 percentage points for 564 likely Republican primary voters.

Sean Lansing, press secretary for the Hovde campaign, said the two polls make it clear that Hovde is picking up steam on Thompson.

"The bottom line is that Eric is continuing to surge while Governor Thompson remains stuck in the low to mid-30s," Laning said in an email. "Two independent polls in two days have clearly shown that this is a two-man race and that Eric has all the momentum.

"The real question of the day is how a four-term governor with near universal name ID explains why he continues to either trail or lose ground in every new poll that’s released," Lansing added. "My guess is that it's because Wisconsin voters want a principled conservative who will make the tough decisions, not a career politician and corporate lobbyist who grew the size of government and raised taxes and fees by millions before profiting off his time in office."

In response to the Marquette poll, the Thompson campaign saying Thompson's double-digit lead is noteworthy since Hovde is outspending the former governor and polls from Hovde and PPP are less than accurate:

Tommy Thompson is holding a strong double-digit lead in the Republican primary despite misleading attacks by his opponents, suspect polls peddled by Eric Hovde and the Democrats, and being dramatically outspent by Hovde ... Thompson maintains a trust and credibility with Republican voters. His percentage of the Republican primary vote remained unchanged despite Hovde's 6-1 advantage in television ads.

We already see Hovde turning to negative and false attacks against one of the most effective conservative reformers in the nation. Just as Scott Walker did not let Mark Neumann mislead the voters in 2010, Hovde should be assured that he will not be allowed to distort either Thompson's record or Hovde's own record.

After the Public Policy Polling survey on Tuesday, Thompson's campaign responded with a statement blasting Baldwin and dismissing PPP as a Democratic firm that is unreliable:

It is no secret that Democrat Tammy Baldwin doesn't want to face Tommy Thompson in the race for U.S. Senate. For obvious reasons, she'd rather run against a hedge fund manager from Washington, DC or a candidate who gained notoriety for running one of the most negative GOP Primary campaigns in Wisconsin history against Gov. Scott Walker.

PPP is a known Democrat polling firm, and their results mirror Baldwin's leak of her own poll on the GOP primary within the last week. These numbers do not reflect our internal polling numbers or other credible public polls.

Thompson's campaign also made note that he is the only Republican candidate to lead Baldwin in the Marquette survey while Baldwin leads Hovde, Neumann and Fitzgerald, according to those results.

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