Former Gov. Tommy Thompson won the U.S. Senate GOP Primary Tuesday night, garnering 35 percent of the vote among four candidates.
For the first time since 1998, Thompson has been on a state ballot and he made the most of it by edging out Eric Hovde in a race that was close for much of the night.
Most far northern and southern counties of Wisconsin went with Thompson, while Hovde saw most of his strongest support coming from the Fox Valley and northeastern Wisconsin.
It was a close race between the two all night, with businessman Mark Neumann coming in with 23 percent of the vote. Jeff Fitzgerald captured 12 percent.
At about 9 p.m., one hour after the polls closed, Hovde held a 34 percent to 32 percent lead over Thompson. Hovde was showing strong support in northeastern Wisconsin and the Fox Valley, including Green Bay and Brown County.
But it was Thompson, running strong across the state, especially in the northern and southern counties, who was the surprise – there were many leading up to Election Day who were still considered undecided according to polls taken as recent as a few days ago.
At about 9:30 p.m., Thompson saw his northern and southern support open a 34-31 percent lead over Hovde – a lead he maintained the rest of the night. In fact, by the 10 p.m. hour, Thompson gained another percentage point, coming in at that point with 34 percent to Hovde’s 30 percent. Thirty minutes later, Thompson was showing the 5 percentage point lead. It was around that time Thompson was declared the winner.
Final unofficial vote totals for the U.S. Senate race showed Thompson finishing with 197,950 votes, Hovde earned 179,793, Neumann received 132,959 votes, and Fitzgerald finished with 71,955.
Thompson will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin in the November general election to see who will replace the retiring, and long-time U.S. Senator, Democrat Herb Kohl.
The local vote
Thompson was the victor in Oneida County finishing first with 1,511, Neumann was second with 1,442 votes, Hovde third with 1,425 and Fitzgerald fourth with 319 votes.
In Vilas County, Thompson also finished first with 1,172 votes, second was Neumann with 1,047, Hovde was third with 870 votes and Fitzgerald was fourth with 211 votes.
Oneida County Republican Party chairman Andy Loduha knew it was going to be a tight race between Thompson and Hovde. He said he wasn’t surprised that Thompson emerged victorious and also wouldn’t have been surprised if Hovde had earned the Republican nod.
“I expected one of those two to win,” Loduha said. “I would have been happy either way. I think any of the four candidates would have been an excellent U.S. Senator.”
Oneida County Democratic Party chairman Paul Knuth said Tuesday’s close race bodes well for Baldwin’s chances in the general election.
“I think Tammy is up to the race against Tommy because she has the people of Wisconsin at heart,” Knuth said. “She’s for senior citizens, Medicare and maintaining Social Security. Tommy is old school and hasn’t been in office for a while. He wasn’t an automatic favorite of Republicans in Wisconsin.”
Baldwin has served seven straight terms in Congress, representing the Madison area. She gave up her House seat to run for the Senate.
Thompson was Wisconsin’s governor for 14 years and he served in President George W. Bush’s administration.
Baldwin says there’s a lot to do between now and November, but she’s confident she can beat Thompson in the fall.
Loduha said he thinks Thompson will be the victor in that race.
“Tommy Thompson is a great campaigner, a lot of people believe in him,” Loduha said. “I think the general attitude of people right now is a conservative mentality over a liberal mentality. Tommy will go to Washington and work to right [the financial problems]. We have bills we can’t afford. I know fiscally, he’s very disciplined. We need strong conservative thinking.”
Loduha said the former governor’s personable nature gives him an edge heading toward the November election. At the state Republican Party convention in May, Loduha said Thompson was at the door of his suite shaking hands with everyone who walked through the door. When Loduha introduced himself, Thompson immediately apologized for not being able to make it to the Oneida County Republican Party’s Lincoln/Reagan Day Dinner.
“He remembered, with everything that is going on in his life,” Loduha said. “That struck me about how personable the guy is.”
12th Senate District Primary
Susan Sommer was declared the winner in the 12th Senate District Democratic Party Primary.
According to final unofficial results, Sommer finished with 65 percent of the total vote with 3,693 votes. Lisa Theo earned 35 percent of the vote with 2,019 votes cast in her favor.
Sommer finished first in Oneida County by receiving 1,176 votes compared with Theo’s 497 votes.
Sommer also finished first in Vilas County with 557 votes to Theo’s 147.
Sommer said she is “very grateful” for the support she received during her primary campaign and looks forward to another great campaign in the general election.
“I think I just need to continue to get my message out there to the voters,” Sommer said. “My message resonates with whatever party you are from, I think.”
Sommer said she believes more jobs for the Northwoods and a public health initiative are the two most important issues for voters in the Northwoods.
Rob Swearingen was declared the winner in the Republican 34th Assembly District Primary over Rhinelander City Council member Alex Young. Swearingen finished with 5,160, 74 percent. Young finished with 1,780 votes, 26 percent of the vote.
Swearingen won Oneida County by finishing first with 2,920 votes to Young’s 944.
Swearingen also won Vilas County with 1,919 votes compared with 620 garnered by Young.
“I’m excited that I’m one step closer to representing the Northwoods in Madison,” Swearingen said. “I will continue to focus my campaign on the most important issue facing our area – jobs. We must work hard to foster an environment for job creation. This means we need to keep Wisconsin moving forward by reining-in waste, fraud and abuse in government, and by holding the line on taxes. Most importantly, we need to pass a mining bill that helps streamline mining regulations to create thousands of good-paying jobs.
“My thanks to my opponent, Alex Young, for running a positive, issues-oriented campaign. If elected to the State Assembly, I look forward to working with him and other local elected officials on issues facing the Northwoods.”
In the 34th Assembly District Primary, Democrat Merlin Van Buren was declared the winner with 1,514 votes or 62 percent of the total vote. Roberta Retrum received 919 votes or 38 percent of the total vote.
Van Buren finished first in Oneida County with 1,002 votes. Retrum had 435 votes in Oneida County.
In Vilas County the vote totals were a bit closer in the Democratic primary with Van Buren finishing with 348 votes to Retrum’s 330.
Oneida County District Attorney
Rhinelander attorney Michael Schiek was declared the winner in the race for Oneida County District Attorney with 2,612 votes. His opponent, Mike Fugle, received 1,553.
Schiek will now run against Democrat Scott Moller, an Oneida County assistant district attorney, in the November general election.
When reached Wednesday morning, Schiek said he was “very humbled” by his election victory and also congratulated Fugle for the way he had run his campaign.
“We kept it clean,” Schiek said. “It’s nice to be able to really discuss the issues and not get into mudslinging and dirty campaigns. I thanked Mr. Fugle for this when we talked.”
Schiek said he wanted to thank all of the family, friends and others who supported his primary campaign and he is “very excited” about the general election Nov. 6.
Schiek said he believes he’s the best possible choice for district attorney because of his lifetime in the Northwoods. He said he “knows what the people want in their district attorney.”
Other state races
More than a dozen Wisconsin legislative incumbents survived primary challenges Tuesday, with six winning their seats outright as voters solidified match-ups for the November general elections.
All six Republican incumbents who faced a primary survived, including two state representatives who voted against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s contentious plan to limit public unions’ power. Seven Democrat incumbents pushed past their opponents. Two incumbents — Milwaukee Democrats Jason Fields and Peggy Krusick — lost their seats.
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Raymond T. Rivard and the AP contributed to this article.