Tommy Thompson, the former Wisconsin governor and ex-Bush administration Secretary of Health and Human Services, has just announced that he will not challenge Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold — a rare instance this cycle of Senate Republicans failing to get their strongest possible candidate.
“My family did not want me to run,” Thompson told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, just before he took the stage to speak at a Tea Party event in Madison.
Thompson was probably the GOP’s best shot at beating Feingold, with the TPM Poll Average showing him ahead of the incumbent by 45.3%-41.9%. By contrast, Feingold is ahead of the two Republicans who are already in the race, leading businessman Terrence Wall by 50.7%-37.0%, and leading businessman Dave Westlake by 49.4%-34.2%.Former state Commerce Secretary Dick Leinenkugel, of the Leinenkugel beer family, is expected to enter the race as well, after resigning from the administration of Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. In addition, state Sen. Ted Kanavas has been considering a run, if Thompson decided not to.
Yesterday, Thompson denied reports that he had decided against a run, saying that he in fact had not yet made a decision.
Thompson had a long and successful career in Wisconsin politics. He was first elected to the state Assembly in 1966, eventually becoming the Republican minority leader. He was elected governor in 1986, then re-elected in 1990, 1994 and 1998, before joining President George W. Bush’s cabinet in 2001. He left the cabinet after the 2004 election, and briefly sought the Republican nomination for president in 2007.