Wisconsin GOP Senate primary a toss-up

Today’s Wisconsin’s GOP Senate primary has largely been overshadowed by Scott Walker’s recall election and now by Rep. Paul Ryan’s being named to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, but it could be crucial in deciding the makeup of the Senate Republican caucus come January.

The quiet race contrasts with earlier races that drew considerable national attention, such as  Ted Cruz’s win in Texas, Deb Fischer’s win in Nebraska and Richard Mourdock’s win in Indiana.

The tight race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl pits former congressman Mark Neumann — who enjoys Tea Party support — against former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, businessman Eric Hovde and State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald who trails well behind the pack.

Neumann enjoys the backing of Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., who similarly backed Cruz , Mourdock and Fischer, along with that of the Club for Growth, which has spent $1.2 million running ads attacking Thompson and Hovde for allegedly supporting tax hikes, and Tea Party Express.

But Neumann has placed third in the race thus far and still bares scars from his 2010 primary fight against Gov. Scott Walker, according to political observers.

Thompson, who served four terms as governor, was the early favorite in the race, but his lead in the race has grown increasingly tenuous as the race has grown competitive as outside money has poured into the race. A recent Marquette Law poll found him leading his challengers by 8 points, but it also found that 21 percent of voters remain undecided.

He has been portrayed as the face of a moderate GOP establishment by his challengers who have noted that he appeared at a White House forum on health care reform, which they imply equals his support for Obamacare – something he denies.

The former governor has garnered endorsements from former presidential hopeful Herman Cain and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Hovde, who came in at 20 percent in the poll and second behind Thompson, has touted his status as an outsider who has never held public office. But he has received considerable criticism for having lived in Washington most of his adult life, only recently having moved back to Wisconsin.

“With so many undecided voters, it appears people will make up their minds this weekend,” Mordecai Lee, a political science professor at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee told Reuters. “This is anybody’s race to win and anybody’s race to lose.”

The winner will go on to face Democrat Tammy Baldwin in November.