By Brendan O'Brien
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Republicans battered by their Missouri U.S. Senate candidate's remarks on rape got better news in another large Midwestern state on Wednesday from a poll showing their Wisconsin candidate with a comfortable lead.
Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson led Democratic U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin 50 percent to 41 percent, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Milwaukee-based Marquette University Law School.
Republicans are counting on victories in several Midwestern U.S. Senate races in November including Wisconsin, Nebraska and North Dakota, to help them gain the four Senate seats they need to take majority control of the upper chamber. Democrats now control the U.S. Senate with a 53 to 47 majority.
They had included Missouri on the list until Republican candidate Todd Akin prompted a furor with comments about "legitimate rape." Akin had been comfortably ahead of Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill but his remarks prompted widespread calls for him to quit the race. He has so far resisted quitting.
Wisconsin's Thompson was considered a moderate Republican when he served as governor from 1987 to 2001, helping to create BadgerCare, a healthcare program for low-income families, and instituting America's first school choice program.
He has since moved to the right, professing a conservative political philosophy, and earlier this month he narrowly won a crowded primary against conservative foes. He faces Baldwin, a seven-term U.S. representative. Baldwin, who represents Dane County, a Democratic stronghold of the state, has been an advocate for health care reform and women rights issues.
The race is to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl, who is finishing his fourth term in the Senate.
The Marquette Law School Poll surveyed 576 likely voters from August 16 to 19.
The results were in-line with other recent surveys showing that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's choice of U.S. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate may have given the Republican ticket a small boost that state.
President Barack Obama's lead over Romney in Wisconsin shrank to 3 points in the latest survey, from 5 points at the beginning of August. The result falls within the poll's margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.
Romney is hoping to win some upper Midwest states that Obama won in 2008 including Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu and Greg McCune)