A few days ago, on one of our Three Martini Lunch podcasts, Greg Corombos observed how reassuring it was that the Republican bench of potential Senate candidates in Wisconsin finally included some fresh faces beyond former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who last won a race in 1998 and who has been briefly mentioned and quickly turned down almost every statewide race in that state since then.
From Mike Allen’s morning newsletter today:
Tommy Thompson, the Republican former Wisconsin governor and George W. Bush’s first HHS secretary, has told friends he plans to run for the open Senate seat in Wisconsin. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) said Friday that he won’t seek a fifth term in 2012. Thompson’s announcement gives Republicans a popular former two-term governor of state to seriously challenge for this toss-up seat. There’s no chance Thompson would run against Paul Ryan, so the former Wisconsin Governor will await the Budget Chairman’s official announcement on the race before jumping in. Ryan has suggested in private conversations with GOP officials in recent days that he will take a pass on the race and focus on his House chairmanship.
Thompson has been meeting with political associates and telling them he wants back in the game. He is working behind the scenes on campaign, fund-raising and staffing plans — and would enter as a very strong front-runner for the GOP nomination and the seat. There is one reason to think this isn’t an absolute done deal, regardless of what Thompson’s telling friends this week: He has flirted with political runs in the past, including the Senate in 2010, only to bail.
Thompson’s presidential bid in 2008 was short-lived and unfocused, but he would immediately be a top-tier Senate challenger who knows the state well and who is well-versed in health care policy. But will Bush’s HHS guy – running health policy when the Bush administration and a GOP Congress enacted the unfunded entitlement of the Medicare prescription drug benefit – be acceptable to the Tea Parties in Wisconsin?
UPDATE: If Thompson jumps in, he will be the first Wisconsin Republican to announce a bid. Kohl only announced his retirement Friday, but I’m a bit surprised to see that according to Green Papers, no Republican has filed papers to run for this seat yet, not even any little-known gadflies.