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No one wins Wis. GOP endorsement for Senate race

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- None of the four Republican candidates for U.S. Senate were able to capture 60 percent support at the state party convention Saturday, meaning no one will get the party's official endorsement.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- None of the four Republican candidates for U.S. Senate were able to capture 60 percent support at the state party convention Saturday, meaning no one will get the party's official endorsement.

The vote was an especially tough blow to former Gov. Tommy Thompson -- who was first elected to public office in 1966 -- as he was eliminated in the second round of voting after getting just 18 percent support. It also served as a stinging rebuke to political newcomer Eric Hovde, who was eliminated in the first round of voting with 16 percent.

Saturday provided a boost to state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, who has dramatically trailed both Thompson and Hovde in fundraising but emerged with the most support from Republican Party faithful after the third and final round of voting. Still, he couldn't reach the threshold required to get the endorsement and the money, access to the party's grass roots network and other support that comes with it. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann came in second behind Fitzgerald in the final vote.

Fitzgerald was jubilant about the surprise win even though it wasn't enough to secure the endorsement.

"It definitely breathes life into our campaign," he said.

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Thompson and Hovde's campaigns were quick to downplay their early exits.

"You've got to take these with a grain of salt and move back onto the campaign," said Thompson campaign consultant Darrin Schmitz. "It's not indicative, necessarily, of where support lies."

Hovde's spokesman, Sean Lansing, also said the results were not indicative of what will happen in the Aug. 14 primary.

For example, Rebecca Kleefisch was the first lieutenant governor candidate to drop out of the endorsement race in 2010, but she went on to win the primary.

Fitzgerald gave the most fiery speech of the group Saturday, recounting the dramatic days last year when he helped push through Gov. Scott Walker's proposal curbing public workers' collective bargaining rights despite massive protests, death threats and a Democratic filibuster that lasted three days.

Calling himself an Irish guy who likes a fight, Fitzgerald said he proved himself last year as a conservative leader who also helped pass bills requiring photo identification be shown at the polls, legalized the carrying of concealed weapons and removed liability for homeowners who shoot intruders.

That record separates him from the other candidates, Fitzgerald argued.

Delegates appeared to agree.

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He ended up with 51.5 percent of the vote in the final round, compared with 48.5 percent for Neumann.

Fitzgerald was first elected to the Assembly in 2000 and became speaker in 2011. He has never run for statewide office before.

The 70-year-old Thompson, who was elected governor four times but hasn't stood for election since 1998, told convention attendees that he's battle tested and the most prepared candidate. He was first elected to the state Assembly in 1966, the year that Fitzgerald was born.

"I'm the one you can trust to do the job in Washington D.C.," Thompson said. "Others can talk about what they may do if elected but I have a plan and I've walked the walk."

Thompson resigned as governor in 2001 to become President George W. Bush's secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. He left that post in 2005 and briefly ran for president in 2007 before dropping out due to lack of support.

In his speech to delegates, Hovde largely avoided talking about any issues in the race and instead spoke in generalities about how he believes the country's morals, ethics and standards -- as well as its financial markets -- are eroding and nearing collapse. Hovde, 48, said he has the energy to confront those problems.

Hovde, who relocated to Madison in July after living 24 years in Washington, D.C., is chief executive officer of Hovde Capital Advisors, a hedge fund management company, and he also has real estate investments and interests in community banks.

Accusations of wrongdoing were flying before the vote, with claims that Neumann supporters were aggressively signing up as delegates to skew the vote in his favor. A spokesman for Hovde's campaign accused Neumann of running an "AstroTurf" campaign, which means there is a manufactured appearance of grass roots support. Neumann's campaign maintained it was following the rules.

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Campaign literature attacking Neumann and Hovde circulated among convention attendees before the vote was taken as well.

Neumann, who served two terms in Congress in the 1990s and is a home builder, said he was the most conservative Republican in the race. Neumann said he believed in a smaller government that is less obtrusive into people's lives.

"America is in deep trouble," Neumann said.

Neumann served in Congress from 1992 to 1996. He ran and lost for U.S. Senate in 1996 and also lost in the Republican primary for governor in 2010 to Walker.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is the only Democrat in the Senate race. The seat is open due to the retirement of Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl. It is seen as a key race for Democrats to win in order to retain control of the Senate.

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