Former governor Tommy Thompson reported Monday that he had raised more money than one of his Republican challengers in the U.S. Senate race, but the only Democratic candidate brought in about as much as both of them combined.
Collectively, three of the four announced candidates reported raising more than $2.2 million between October and December in the race to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl. The seat has been in Democratic hands for more than 50 years and it would be a major win for Republicans as they work to pick up the four seats needed to gain majority control in the Senate.
While the fundraising numbers are large, they pale in comparison to what Republican Gov. Scott Walker is collecting to defend himself in a possible recall election. Over a five-week period that started Dec. 11, Walker raised $4.1 million. He and five other Republican office holders are being targeted for recall.
"The recall elections have dominated the discussion so I think an awful lot of people don't even realize there's a U.S. Senate race going on," said Mike McCabe, director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks fundraising and spending. "I assume that's had some impact on fundraising as well."
Thompson, the former four-term governor who hasn't stood for election since 1998, said Monday that he has raised more than $656,000 in three months and has about $544,000 cash on hand.
Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski called Thompson's numbers "pretty disappointing" given his high profile, decades of service as governor and state lawmaker and his past seven years working as a consultant in the private sector. Thompson reported last week that his net worth was about $13 million and he had earned more than $5 million since 2010.
Thompson's fundraising total was higher than the $518,000 raised by his Republican rival and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann over the same period. Since Neumann got in the race in September, he has raised a total of $820,000.
Thompson officially entered the race in October, so the report showing fundraising between late September and December is the first he has had to file.
By contrast, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin raised $1.1 million over the reporting period and had $1.8 million cash on hand, more than three times what Thompson reported.
Wisconsin state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald is also seeking the Republican nomination but his report had not yet been filed as of midday Monday. His spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a requests for comment.
Thompson spokesman Darrin Schmitz said the latest fundraising numbers, together with a poll released last week showing him with high marks and key endorsements he's secured, are proof that Thompson has momentum.
"It's clear Thompson is exceptionally well-positioned for both the primary and general elections," Schmitz said.
Neumann's campaign manager Chip Englander said it was his candidate who had the momentum, noting that Neumann had received 7,450 donations over the past four months. Thompson had donations from about 1,900 people, Schmitz said.
Republican state Sen. Frank Lasee of DePere, who had been considering getting into the race, bowed out on Sunday. Eric Hovde, a community banker and hedge fund manager, is also considering running as a Republican.
A Marquette University poll released last week showed that Thompson had the highest favorability rating of any candidate in the race with 49 percent having a favorable view while 31 percent didn't.
Neumann had a 27 percent favorable rating and 18 percent unfavorable. Fifteen percent viewed Fitzgerald favorably, while 18 percent were unfavorable. He was the only one of the three where a higher percentage viewed him unfavorably.
Baldwin had a 23 percent favorable rating compared to 21 percent unfavorable.
The telephone poll conducted Jan. 19-22 among 701 registered voters had a 3.8 percentage-point margin of error.