Former governor and Bush health secretary Tommy Thompson won the Wisconsin GOP primary on Tuesday night, defeating businessman Eric Hovde and Tea Party candidate Mark Neumann.
With over 80% of polls reporting, the race was called for Thompson, as he notched 35% of the vote to Hovde’s 30%.
The race was seen as a Republican civil war of sorts, a battle of ideology between the moderate Thompson and the more far-right candidates opposing him.
Thompson’s win shows that the Tea Party and far-right conservatives aren’t completely taking over the GOP in election 2012, and that conservative voters are still sympathetic to more moderate candidates (i.e. Mitt Romney).
The former Wisconsin governor was faced with the toughest fight of his political career. Thompson had always seen political success, reaching back to the 1980s. He was known as a bi-partisan player, who easily reached across the aisle at the state legislature to pass several landmark pieces of legislation.
But since he has last held office (before joining the George W. Bush administration as health secretary), his Republican Party has seen a far-right switch which has sought to expel moderates from its ranks. Thompson is very much part of the GOP old guard, and was up against a new breed of conservative.
Neumann boasted the most support from Tea Party groups including the Tea Party Express, the conservative Club for Growth, and Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
But before Tuesday’s vote, Thompson had regained his edge. A recent Marquette University Law School poll showed 28% of likely GOP primary voters back Thompson, while 20% support businessman Hovde. Meanwhile, Neumann has 18% support and State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald comes in behind with 13%.
Republicans can expect Thompson to carry the banner proudly into the general election