MADISON -- After months of polls showing Tommy Thompson had what looked like a comfortable lead in the U.S. Senate race, the latest poll, released Tuesday, July 10th shows political newcomer Eric Hovde pulling ahead of Thompson in the GOP primary race.
The poll, from the left-leaning group "Public Policy Polling" shows Hovde leading the GOP primary race by two points, 31% to 29% over Thompson.
Mark Neumann is at 15%, and Jeff Fitzgerald is at 9%.
"That is a Democrat polling place. If they are a Democrat polling place, they don't want me in the race, so they are going to manufacture and make the polls skewed so that they show somebody else, because they know if I get the nomination, which I'm going to, I'm going to beat Tammy Baldwin," Thompson said in response to the poll.
Thompson has been criticized from the left as a has-been, and the right as not conservative enough.
The survey shows 34% of Republican primary voters would prefer Thompson, while 50% want someone more conservative.
Still, Thompson's strongest argument is his "electability." He has won statewide an unprecedented five times, and retains popularity among both Democrats and Republicans with a long reputation as a moderate who gets things done.
Meanwhile, businessman and political newcomer Hovde is by far the wealthiest of the four candidates, with at least $50 million. Hovde has increased his name recognition, but is well behind Thompson. The poll shows 84% of voters recognize Thompson, while 59% recognize Hovde.
Hovde is running as a sort of anti-politician.
"I never had a plan of spending my whole life in politics. I'm just profoundly worried about the direction our country is heading, so that's my whole message of bringing my economic skills to bear and trying to get this economy turned around," Hovde said.
Former congressman Mark Neumann launched a new campaign ad Tuesday, focusing on his moral objections to the national health care law. The ad is designed to stir the conservative base, which is considered a crucial component to any candidate's victory. He says the race is really just beginning, so polls don't show much of anything.
"This is a five-week race. If you've been outspent $3 million to nearly zero, of course you're going to see poll numbers like that. The bottom line is -- conservative voters are going to come home to the proven conservative in this race and you can see in this ad, that's us," Neumann said.
"I'm running on that positive message. I'm someone who helped turn the state around. Let's go and turn the country around," Fitzgerald said.
The GOP primary is August 14th. The winner takes on Democrat Tammy Baldwin in the November general election.
CLICK HERE for more on the latest poll from Public Policy Polling.