NRA Makes Endorsement In Key U.S. Senate Race As GOP Candidate Narrows Gap

Elisabeth Meinecke

10/8/2012 3:00:00 PM - Elisabeth Meinecke

Over the weekend, the NRA announced its endorsement of Republican Tommy Thompson, the GOP candidate in Wisconsin's open U.S. Senate seat. NRA President David Keene was scheduled for several appearances with Thompson in Wisconsin over the three-day weekend.

The NRA endorsement set off a war of words between the two senate candidates, with Thompson's camp sending out a press release highlighting a Fox 11 article that had Democrat Rep. Tammy Baldwin's response to the development: "Tammy is a gun owner herself, supports the 2nd amendment and is proud to have strong support from Wisconsin sportsmen across the state."

"Now, after Tommy Thompson's successful NRA endorsement tour, Baldwin is trying to save face with Wisconsin's sportsmen," said Thompson spokesperson Lisa Boothe in a press release. "Unlike Baldwin, who has an "F" lifetime rating from the NRA, Governor Thompson has consistently fought to protect the Second Amendment, which is why he received the organization's endorsement."  

In keeping with the endorsement theme over the Columbus Day weekend, the Baldwin campaign revealed a new endorsement Monday: the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, who announced that Baldwin was their candidate in the contest.

Thompson, a well-known figure in Wisconsin, is trailing Baldwin by 4 points in a Marquette University Law School poll released last Wednesday, as reported by the Fox Point-Bayside Patch. The race has shown each candidate enjoying a significant advantage at a certain point, only to see that lead narrow or be completely erased. The Fox Point-Bayside Patch points out the October polling is closer than it was in mid-September, when Baldwin led 50-41, but this was after August numbers showed Thompson ahead by 9.

Last Wednesday's Quinnipiac poll, however, has both candidates at 47 percent, according to an AP report.

The Marquette University breakdown of people's perceptions of the two candidates is telling about the messages that are resonating with voters:

Senate candidate images
Among likely voters, Baldwin’s favorability rating stands at 40 percent favorable and 40 percent unfavorable, compared to 39 percent favorable and 34 percent unfavorable in mid-September. Thompson received 38 percent favorable to 49 percent unfavorable in the latest poll, little changed from 39-48 in mid-September.

Asked if the phrase “cares about people like you” describes each candidate, 47 percent said it describes Baldwin, while 39 percent said it did not describe her. For Thompson, 41 percent said it described him, while 50 percent said it did not.

Advertising and campaign themes
Advertising themes are also reflected in voter perceptions of the candidates. Asked to agree or disagree with themes from recent advertising by each candidate, 49 percent agreed with the statement that Thompson has “sold out to special interests and isn’t working for you anymore,” while 42 percent disagreed. Forty-five percent agreed with the statement that Baldwin “is one of the most liberal members of congress and is too liberal for Wisconsin,” while 45 percent disagreed.

On positive campaign themes 40 percent agreed that Thompson would “stop wasteful spending in Washington,” while 52 percent disagreed. Forty-nine percent agreed that Baldwin would “fight unfair foreign competition,” while 35 percent disagreed.

Neither candidate, it seems, is going for a subtle approach. Thompson released an ad today called "Lying," and Baldwin's campaign has accused Thompson's of being "based on lies," according to a long and detailed AP story.

And the media also seems to be adopting the spicy tone. Some outlets are going after Thompson for mistakenly answering "three" when asked about how many houses he owns. The correct number is four, as reported by the Milwaulkee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, which is unlikely to let him forget it again.