By Caitlin Huey-Burns – August 15, 2012
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Add Tommy Thompson to the growing list of Wisconsin Republicans to watch in November.
The popular former governor clinched his party’s U.S. Senate nomination Tuesday by four points in a tight four-way primary that underscored a heightened conservatism in the Badger State GOP since Thompson left office a dozen years ago. He will compete with Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin for an open seat in a race that, with his entry, could determine the balance of power in the upper chamber. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows the the pair running neck and neck.
His victory comes just days after presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney selected a native son, Rep. Paul Ryan, as his running mate.
No Republican has held this seat, currently occupied by the retiring Herb Kohl, since 1957, and no GOP presidential nominee has won here since Ronald Reagan in 1984. But despite Wisconsin’s progressive roots, the state has recently become a hotbed of sorts for prominent conservatives. Ron Johnson defeated then-Sen. Russ Feingold in 2010, narrowing the Democrats’ majority in the Senate. Gov. Scott Walker famously survived a heated and expensive recall election here in June that galvanized the Republican base and prompted an early start on general election organizing in the state. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus also hails from Wisconsin, and served as the state party chairman during the midterm election.