Tommy Thompson winner in GOP U.S. Senate primary

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MADISON (AP) -- Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson has won the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat the party is trying to capture for the first time in more than five decades.

The ex-governor and Health and Human Services secretary under President George W. Bush defeated three GOP rivals during Tuesday's primary.

It marked Thompson's first time on the ballot since 1998. He advances to face Democrat Tammy Baldwin in the Nov. 6 election.

The seat became open following the retirement of Democrat Herb Kohl.

The win follows a blistering primary in which hedge fund investor Eric Hovde invested nearly $5 million of his own money into the race. U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald also sought the GOP nomination.

Thompson has been out of politics for nearly a decade, but he’s still the most well-known candidate in the race. Thompson is 70 years old. He is from Elroy in Juneau County. He has a law degree and is a Catholic. He’s married with three kids, and eight grandchildren.

Thompson’s political resume spans nearly a half-century. His last election was in 1998, but he’s come out of retirement and into the Senate race. Thompson ran for Wisconsin governor in 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998 -- winning each race by a wide margin.

“You have got to realize that I was governor for 14 years and Democrats were in control of both houses of the Legislature in all but a year and a half. I had to work with both houses in order to get things done and I was able to do so and people respected me for that,” Thompson said.

Thompson is now so familiar that, like Cher or Oprah or Elvis, he is known simply by his first name.

“They don’t call me Governor. They don’t call me Secretary. They don’t call me Mr. Thompson. They call me Tommy.  That tells you not only the popularity but also the familiarity I have with the voters of this great state,” Thompson said.

Thompson's major achievements as governor include welfare reform, pioneering a public school voucher program and revamping education funding. He also created BadgerCare -- the health care safety net for the poor.

Thompson says he does 100 pushups a day — 50 in the morning and 50 before bed. He demonstrated his energy walking 10 miles of parades on the Fourth of July in 100° heat.

“I am in great physical condition and I have the stamina and the workability and the mind is extremely good. I have the ability and the tenacity, the vision and the dreams and the proposals to make America better,” Thompson said.

The latest Marquette University Law School Poll released Wednesday, August 8th shows the U.S. Senate Republican primary race tightening with less than a week until voters take the polls. Former Governor Tommy Thompson led the poll, but Thompson’s lead was shrinking.

The poll found Thompson led the pack with 28% of likely voter support. Hovde was next in line with 20%. Congressman Mark Neumann had 18% and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald 13% of the likely vote.

According to the Marquette Law School poll, 21% of likely GOP primary voters are still undecided. In July, 25% of likely GOP primary voters were undecided.

Thompson has planned what he hopes is a victory party for Tuesday night at the Country Springs Hotel in Waukesha. The polls close at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday.

FOX6's Mike Lowe profiled each of the five U.S. Senate candidates leading up to Tuesday's election. CLICK HERE to learn more about Tommy Thompson.

CLICK HERE for additional coverage on the race for Wisconsin's U.S. Senate seat via