Tommy Thompson

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat.

JOHN HART — State Journal

Wisconsin's two U.S. Senate candidates have, since the August primary, displayed dramatically differing levels of campaign activity, with one crisscrossing the state and the other appearing very selectively.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, 50, the underdog, has held more than two dozen appearances since the party chose her to replace outgoing Democratic U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.

Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, 70, meanwhile, has held fewer than a half dozen official public campaign events in Wisconsin in that time, a number arrived at by combing through Internet postings, and asking both campaigns.

Lisa Boothe, Thompson's communications director, said the governor has been "actively meeting with voters since the primary." But Boothe only provided three examples. Campaign schedules are not public records and not subject to open records requests.

Baldwin's campaign, meanwhile, cited meetings in more than 24 cities, including Appleton, Sheboygan, Green Bay and Milwaukee.

Pointing to Thompson's few appearances, Baldwin's campaign accused Thompson of hiding from voters.

"Thompson doesn't want to get close to voters because then he would have to explain the fact that he is too close to special interests in Washington," said John Kraus, Baldwin's communications director.

Many political watchers assumed Thompson, who enjoys a nearly 10-point lead in the polls and better name recognition, would limit his public appearances, just not this much.

"One would assume Tommy is sitting on the ball a bit, trying to ride out the clock," said Mordecai Lee, UW-Milwaukee political science professor and former Democratic state lawmaker. "That's not that shocking in itself, but I can't recall ever seeing this big a difference."

Charles Franklin said the difference between the campaigns is noticeable but thinks it may have more to do with money.

"That was a tough primary," he said. "I just assumed they're trying to fill their coffers."

The former governor narrowly defeated millionaire businessman Eric Hovde and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann for the nomination. Hovde and Neumann spent more on their campaigns than Thompson and had the backing of powerful third-party groups.

Thompson, who held a huge fundraiser in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, had just $352,000 cash on hand as of the last campaign finance report filed July 25. Baldwin finished the same period with $3.1 million cash on hand. The next report is due to the Federal Election Commission on Oct. 15.

Franklin said that he expects Thompson to step up his campaigning, but Lee said the former governor will still hold back a little.

"He will probably continue to limit his exposure somewhat, to protect against hurting his lead," Lee said. "Honestly, I'm surprised he agreed to do three debates."

The candidates are scheduled to debate in Milwaukee Sept. 28 and Oct. 26 and in Wausau Oct. 18.

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