Thompson goes after Baldwin in Wis. Senate debate
MADISON Tommy Thompson worked to revive his U.S. Senate campaign during a debate with opponent Tammy Baldwin on Friday, labeling the Democratic congresswoman an extremist who has done little in Washington except raise taxes and criticize others.
Thompson, a Republican, spent most of the debate at WMVS-TV's Milwaukee studios on the attack, casting himself as a visionary reformer and branding Baldwin "a taxer and a spender."
"When you don't have a record, you attack the other person," the former Wisconsin governor said. "I get things done. I don't criticize the other side. I make sure things happen."
Baldwin pushed back, saying Thompson wants to cut taxes for the wealthy and dismantle Medicare. She implored voters to get beyond Thompson's fame.
"Look past what my opponent did in the '70s and '80s," she said.
Republicans are counting on Thompson, one of the most popular politicians Wisconsin has ever produced, to win the seat and help the GOP regain control of the Senate. He was first elected to the state Assembly in 1966, then went on to serve four terms as governor before joining President George W. Bush's cabinet in 2001. He's still known around the state simply as "Tommy."
Baldwin, in contrast, has served seven relatively low-profile terms in the U.S. House.
A four-way GOP primary drained Thompson's campaign coffers, though, forcing him to concentrate on raising money and curtail appearances and ads. Baldwin has swooped into the void, making personal appearances around the state and running television spots.
Recent polls have showed the race either tied or with Thompson behind.
The debate, sponsored by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation, marked the first time the two candidates have faced each other in person. Three journalists led the candidate through an hour-long question-and-answer period.
Thompson opened up by declaring he'd cut taxes dozens of times and created more than a half million jobs during his 14 years as governor. He labeled Baldwin the top spender in the U.S. House. He ripped her for allowing the nation's debt to grow to $16 trillion.
"My opponent is a taxer and a spender," Thompson said.
Baldwin blamed former President George W. Bush's administration for adding $3.5 trillion to the deficit, in part through tax cuts and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"They call that conservative? Those words have lost their meaning," Baldwin said.
Asked how they could tamp down partisan quarrels in Congress, Thompson boasted he accomplished "great things" when he was governor by talking with Democrats. Baldwin, he said, is too extreme to work with the other side.
"She's not in the mainstream," he said.
Baldwin acknowledged Congress has grown too partisan but insisted she can work with Republicans.
Thompson blasted Baldwin as the discussion turned to health care, accusing her of failing to push any legislation to fix funding shortfalls in Social Security or Medicare. Baldwin countered by accusing Thompson of supporting Republican vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan's plan to overhaul Medicare by introducing a voucher-like plan that future retirees could use to buy private health insurances. Critics maintain the changes would create a massive cost shift to beneficiaries.
Baldwin, who would be the first openly gay U.S. senator if elected, also jabbed Thompson for his plans to repeal President Barack Obama's signature health care reform law, saying the last thing the country needs is for Thompson and other Republicans to rip it up. Thompson parried by saying Baldwin wants the government to control people's health care choices.
The two also traded swipes over jobs, with Baldwin insisting the public sector can foster private jobs by facilitating education, research and infrastructure and Thompson would hurt those efforts by giving too many tax breaks to the wealthy. Thompson said Baldwin has nothing to show on job creation.
Thompson and Baldwin are scheduled to face off in two more debates ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Since the Aug. 14 primary, Baldwin has poured about $1.7 million on ads compared with about $750,000 from Thompson's campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Campaign. Outside groups have spent an additional $5.3 million for Baldwin this year compared with $3.2 million for Thompson, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
One poll last week showed Thompson and Baldwin tied. Another conducted by the Marquette University Law School showed an 18-point turnaround, with Thompson going from a 9-point lead in August to 9 points down in September. The margin of error for both polls was about 4 percentage points.
Thompson has mounted a counter-offensive in recent days, releasing two ads last week and another on Friday. Two conservative groups, Karl Rove's political action committee and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spent $1.7 million on spots attacking Baldwin last week.