Senate race between Tammy, Tommy high stakesIn Wisconsin, it’s known simply as the Tommy-Tammy race. But the election to replace Wisconsin’s retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl is anything but a local contest.
By: By Dee J. Hall/The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
In Wisconsin, it’s known simply as the Tommy-Tammy race. But the election to replace Wisconsin’s retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl is anything but a local contest.
Tens of millions of dollars have poured in from out of state in the race between U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. At stake is control of the U.S. Senate, where Democrats have a 51-47 majority with two independents who lean Democratic. Republicans enjoy a hefty margin in the U.S. House.
And the race is about as close as any in the country; just three respondents out of 870 likely voters separated Thompson and Baldwin in the latest Marquette University Law School poll released, indicating a dead heat, director Charles Franklin said.
Thompson, 70, talks about supporting “job creators” by cutting regulations, reining in federal spending and changing major entitlement programs to ensure their longevity.
“I’m a reformer, and I cut taxes,” Thompson said during a recent Senate debate in Wausau, Wis. “I cut regulations. She raises taxes. She increases regulations.”
Baldwin said her priority is to make sure consumers and taxpayers operate on a “level playing field” with big businesses and the rich, and the most vulnerable receive care.
Baldwin, 50, reported having $3.5 million on hand at the beginning of October, while Thompson said he had nearly $2 million. But outside groups had spent $24.5 million as of Friday, mostly on attack ads, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Their messages appear to be working: 48 percent of likely voters in the Marquette poll agreed with the statement that Baldwin “is one of the most liberal members of Congress and is too liberal for Wisconsin” while 41 percent disagreed. When asked if “Tommy Thompson sold out to special interests and isn’t working for you anymore,” 49 percent of agreed; 41 percent disagreed.
Thompson is running on his 14 years as governor, during which he reformed the state’s welfare system and began BadgerCare, the state health insurance program for low- and moderate-income residents. He also touts his four years as U.S. Health and Human Services secretary under President George W. Bush, during which he presided over implementation of the popular but controversial Medicare prescription drug program.
As governor from 1988 until 2001, state budgets under Thompson doubled to $11.3 billion a year, compared to $13.3 billion today, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. Thompson said the state added 742,000 jobs, and that he cut taxes 91 times during that time.
The former governor — who was bashed during the GOP primary for presiding over big budget increases — now campaigns as a fiscal conservative, saying that among his top goals would be to slash the national debt and cut federal spending.
He has vowed to join other Republicans in killing the Affordable Care Act, which he contended would raise the cost of health care, and replace it with a “market-based” system. Such a system would include incentives to encourage prevention and reward health care providers for high-quality outcomes rather than performing additional procedures.
But Thompson’s plan to reform Medicare, a central issue in the race, has shifted. Thompson’s campaign up until last week insisted that he favored changes to the Medicare system similar to those proposed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville. The vice presidential candidate’s plan would give recipients a set amount of money — called either a voucher or premium support — to buy insurance from the private sector or from Medicare itself.
But Thompson, who as health secretary ran Medicare for four years, said he favors allowing future recipients to stay on Medicare or join the same health insurance plan used by federal employees and members of Congress.
His plan, Thompson said, is “not a voucher — that’s yesterday’s news with somebody else’s plan, not mine.”
In an interview with the State Journal editorial board, Thompson said he did not know if his plan would save money, either for recipients or Medicare.
Baldwin, who if elected would be the first openly gay senator, campaigns on her record in Congress, where she has been elected by wide margins seven times to represent a mainly left-leaning Madison area.
Baldwin has been a steady advocate for government-insured health care. She is a champion of the Affordable Care Act and authored the provision that allows children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans.
The congresswoman also introduced the so-called Buffett Rule, a bill that would require millionaires to pay a 30 percent federal income tax rate; currently many of the highest earners pay a smaller rate than middle-class taxpayers, who pay between 15 percent and 28 percent.
Baldwin highlights a part of Thompson’s career about which he has said very little on the campaign trail. From 2005 until 2012, Thompson made millions of dollars working for a high-powered Washington D.C., lobbying and law firm, and serving on dozens of boards of corporations that he once regulated as the nation’s health secretary, including pharmaceutical, medical device and health insurance companies.
“I made my career taking on the special interests on behalf of the people of Wisconsin,” Baldwin told about 50 supporters at the South Fork Cafe in River Falls earlier this month. “My opponent has been taking them on as clients. That’s what this election is about: Whose side are you on?”
Copyright 2012 The Wisconsin State Journal, Madison/
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