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Gloves off during GOP U.S. Senate candidate forum

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MILWAUKEE -- All four GOP candidates for Wisconsin's U.S. Senate seat appeared separately for a forum in downtown Milwaukee Wednesday, July 18th.

Those running in the August 14th GOP Senate primary race include: former governor Tommy Thompson, businessman and political newcomer Eric Hovde, Congressman Mark Neumann and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.

The gloves were off for the candidates during Wednesday's forum, as each candidate tried to prove why they're the candidate to take on Democrat Tammy Baldwin for the U.S. Senate seat, currently held by the retiring Herb Kohl.

Polls indicate the GOP frontrunners are Thompson and Hovde, with the race between the two tightening, according to recently-released Public Policy and Marquette Law School polls.

During Wednesday's forum, Neumann said Hovde isn't an authentic Wisconsin candidate.

"He spent the last 24 years in Washington D.C.  He came back to run for the United States Senate. He's attempting to buy a Senate seat with a message that doesn't convey who he really is as a person," Neumann said.

"Mark is Mark. His whole mannerisims, throwing mud and attacking, like he attacked Scott Walker endlessly, he's trying to attack me endlessly.  I guess he should attack Ron Johnson. Ron Johnson spent every bit as much as I did in the Senate seat," Hovde said in response.

"Let's think about Ron Johnson, and let's think about who really is like Ron Johnson.  Ron Johnson has spent his career in Wisconsin, creating Wisconsin jobs.  Mark Neumann has spent his career in Wisconsin creating Wisconsin jobs," Neumann said.

Hovde had harsh words for Thompson, the front-runner in the race, and perhaps the candidate with the most name recognition.

"The other difference is our level of knowledge and expertise to how our economy works, how our financial markets work.  I think there are issues I could talk about that frankly, Tommy would have a hard time understanding," Hovde said.

"I would say anyone who makes those kind of statements is not very bright.  I would also say you know, he doesn't know anything.  Who's the one who created jobs in Wisconsin? Who's the one that has balanced the budget 14 times?" Thompson said in response.

Fitzgerald is trailing the other three candidates, according to the polls, but he says that's not why the candidates aren't going after him. He says they can't criticize his record during Wisconsin's epic budget battle.

"The two most popular guys in this state right now with conservative groups -- besides Scott Walker -- are myself and my brother. Both of the camps know it would be very difficult to start taking shots after what we've just done for the year and a half," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald says he's going to stay positive and not get involved in the attacks and counter attacks. He says voter fatigue will play a big role in the GOP primary election, and he believes expected low voter turnout, coupled with the negative turn by the other campaigns will play in his favor.

Neumann has doubled his TV advertising, and says he will dominate the airwaves for the final month of the campaign.

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