There was only one thing certain heading into the U.S. Senate Republican primary election Tuesday — and it was that nothing was certain.
Throughout the state’s five elections this year, perhaps no election gave voters such a perplexing choice as the four GOP candidates for U.S. Senate. Every candidate received an endorsement of some sort, and a clear favorite never emerged.
But by the end of the night, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson did something he had done many times before — win an election.
Final unofficial results from the Associated Press show that Thompson posted a 3 percentage-point victory over his top rival, hedge fund manager and businessman Eric Hovde. Finishing in the second tier were state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald; and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann.
Thompson will carry the GOP torch in November and take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin for a crucial Senate seat that could swing the balance of control in Washington, D.C.
"We have always in America promised our children and our grandchildren that we will give them a country that is stronger, more free, and fairer than what we had," Thompson told supporters at his victory party at the Country Springs Hotel in Waukesha. "For the first time, I don't think we can fulfill that promise unless we take our country back."
Thompson garnered 34 percent of the vote, while Hovde took 31 percent. Neumann and Fitzgerald rounded out the field, collecting 23 percent and 12 percent of the vote respectively.
'We're Taking Our Country Back'
“We have a moral responsibility to stand up, be counted, and solve the problems of America. We are proud Americans,” Thompson told his supporters. “Every single one of you are here tonight because you believe in America. You believe in the process. You believe in Wisconsin. We’re taking our country back, and we are going to win in November!”
Polls are varied for the Nov. 6 election that will pit Thompson against Baldwin. released last week gave Thompson a 5-point edge over Baldwin, but a Quinnipiac University poll released about the same time shows the two locked in a dead heat.
On Tuesday, Baldwin immediately released a statement framing the November contest against Thompson as a battle for the future of the middle class.
"Tonight, the Republican primary electorate presented Wisconsin voters with a clear choice for the November election. Make no mistake; Tommy Thompson will stand with those who already have too much power and influence in Washington,” Baldwin said. “I will fight to do what's right for the middle class and Thompson will put those at the very top and the big monied special interests in Washington ahead of Wisconsin's hard working families.”
Four, Three, Two, One and It’s Thompson
As the night progressed and election results trickled in, Thompson's competitors bowed out of the race in the same order they stacked up in the last Marquette University poll to come out before the election.
Fitzgerald was the first to concede in the race from his party in West Bend. Next, it was Neumann who conceded. Though Neumann finished well behind Thompson and Hovde, he gave an upbeat concession speech, endorsing Thompson in the race against Baldwin.
“We absolutely have to have Tommy Thompson beat Tammy Baldwin this fall,” Neumann said during his brief, but lively, concession speech. He vowed to support his fellow Republicans in the general election, urging the crowd to do the same.
“Will each of you join Sue and I and our family in doing everything that we can in our power to right this nation?” Neumann asked. He was answered by raucous calls of agreement from his supporters.
At roughly 10:30 p.m., Hovde was the final candidate to surrender and called Thompson to tell him to, “Take it to Tammy.”
"This was never about me, or a political career. I was just some guy that got sick of yelling at the TV,” Hovde said during his party at the Milwaukee Marriott West in Waukesha. "You can never say never, but the likelihood of me returning to politics is slim. I'm a big boy, and I have a company to return to, friends I would like to see and a family that would like to have me home more often in the evening."
Hovde said he would continue to work to defeat Baldwin because saying, “She just cannot win in November."