Wisconsin Political Heavyweights Eye Senate Run

By Scott Bauer - August 18, 2011

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Thompson ran for president in 2007 but dropped out after finishing seventh in the Iowa straw poll. He briefly considered running for governor in 2009 and kept speculation swirling for months about whether he would challenge Feingold last year. Just a day before announcing he wasn't running, Thompson insisted he still didn't know what he was going to say.

A moderate who worked closely with Democrats, Thompson is expected to face a challenge in a Republican primary from more conservative members of his party who have risen to power and moved the party to the right in the years since he left the governor's office.

Those include state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon, a close ally of Walker's particularly in the high profile battle over public employee collective bargaining rights, state Sen. Frank Lasee of DePere, who once sponsored a bill allowing teachers to carry firearms in the classroom, former state Sen. Ted Kanavas of Brookfield and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann of Nashotah.

Fitzgerald has a "strong interest" in the race but has no timetable for making a decision, said his spokesman John Jagler.

Neumann, who served two terms in Congress in the 1990s, lost in a Senate race against Feingold in 1998 and was defeated by Walker in the GOP primary in last year's governor's race. Kanavas decided against seeking another term in the state Senate last year after serving there 10 years.

Kanavas said Thursday that he has a game plan that involves making a decision around November. Recall elections this summer that targeted nine members of the state Senate and that wrapped up Tuesday delayed the process, he said.

Other potential candidates also said the recalls delayed their decision-making.

Kanavas said that while Thompson's consideration of a run changes the way he approaches the race, it doesn't affect his final decision.

"I make decisions based on whether it's the right thing for me and my family," Kanavas said.

On the Democratic side, the elephant in the room is Feingold. He promised to announce his plans by Labor Day, but Thompson's step forward Wednesday didn't spur any action from the former three-term senator. Feingold's spokesman had no comment Thursday.

Other Democrats considering a run are U.S. Reps. Tammy Baldwin of Madison and Ron Kind of La Crosse and former U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen of Appleton. Baldwin has all but said she's in, but as a progressive liberal from Madison and openly gay, moderates in her party fret privately that she may not be able to win a statewide election.

Kind will make a decision soon, but has no specific timeline, said his spokeswoman Leah Hunter.

Kagen did not immediately return a message and neither did a spokesman for Baldwin.

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Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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