MADISON — Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson has unleashed his first attack ad of the U.S. Senate race campaign, accusing hedge fund manager Eric Hovde of gaming the system and betting against American taxpayers.
Hovde, of Madison, who polls show is gaining on Thompson with the primary three weeks away, posted a response on his campaign website Monday calling Thompson's television ad "a disappointing and disingenuous display of politics as usual."
The ad going after Hovde, released Saturday, came a day after Thompson, a former U.S. health and human services secretary under President George W. Bush, sent both Hovde and another contender for the GOP nomination, former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, a Milwaukee-area businessman, a letter complaining about their ads attacking him.
The latest back and forth between the candidates shows a further intensification of the race to fill Wisconsin's open Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Democrat Herb Kohl. State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon also is running as a Republican.
The Republican contenders square off in an Aug. 14 primary for the right to face U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Madison, the only Democrat in the race, in the Nov. 6 general election.
Hovde opponents have been trying to knock down his campaign as it appears to be gaining momentum. The national anti-tax group Club for Growth launched a television ad attacking him and Thompson two weeks ago. Neumann also is running his own spot attacking Hovde's conservative credentials because he donated $500 to Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle in 2006.
Hovde responded with his own spot last week, accusing Thompson and Neumann of slinging mud in an attempt to distract attention from their own poor records.
In Thompson's latest, his first attack ad of the campaign, he accuses Hovde of running a hedge fund that "used ‘Uncle Sam' to buy banks" and "gamed the system and bet against American companies and homeowners."
The ad quotes from a January 2009 Hovde Industry Update article titled "Let Uncle Sam Pay For Your Acquisition." Hovde said in his response that the newsletter was written by a Hovde Financial employee after he no longer had any involvement with the company. Hovde called the newsletter's headline "stupid."
Hovde also dismissed the ad's claim that he bet against American companies and homeowners, calling it "a deceitful attack that comes straight from the Democrat's class-warfare playbook."
Hovde is showing movement in the polls, going from 18 points down to Thompson in a June poll by Marquette University Law School to 12 down in the latest one, released July 11.
That poll of likely primary voters showed Thompson leading the field with 35 percent, followed by Hovde at 23 percent, Neumann at 10 percent and Fitzgerald at 6 percent. Another 25 percent were undecided.