Wisconsin Senate Race Heats Up Amid Scott Walker Recall Effort

For months the effort to recall of Gov. Scott Walker (R) has monopolized political headlines in Wisconsin. But another crucial election is taking shape in the state. The 2012 race for the seat being vacated by retiring longtime incumbent Democrat Herb Kohl will likely be a tossup -- and one of the handful of contests that will determine which party gains control of the U.S. Senate.

Two big-name candidates are vying for the open seat: Former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R), who served a member of George W. Bush's cabinet, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D), a progressive who, if elected, would be the first openly gay woman in the Senate.

Thompson, a moderate, is fending off candidates running to his right in the GOP primary. Ex-Rep. Mark Neumann is running as the "true conservative" and has been endorsed by Sens. Rand Paul and Jim DeMint, both Tea Party favorites. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald has made a name for himself through his connection to Walker.

How Walker fares in the recall could also determine which Republican candidate has the edge in the August primary -- already, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who endorsed Tea Party favorite Neumann, is trying to make Thompson look like the least "Walker-like" candidate, citing his past words in favor of collective bargaining and high-speed rail ... Meanwhile, on Thursday the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Neumann, an outspoken critic of the federal stimulus program, was actually the recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars in stimulus money, which went to his solar energy company.

The Journal Sentinel took an in-depth look at the contrast between Walker and Thompson recently, calling Walker a "base" politician and Thompson an "outreach" politician who is less polarizing to voters:

In Walker's case, the gap between his popularity on the right and his popularity on the left is just about as big as it could possibly be: 92% of Republicans view him favorably compared to 16% of Democrats, a difference of 76 points.

In Thompson's case, the gap is much, much smaller: 70% of Republicans view him favorably, compared to 36% of Democrats, a difference of 34 points.

The winner of the GOP primary will go up against a formidable challenger. Baldwin raised more than $1 million in the fourth quarter of last year, compared with Thompson's $656,504.

10 more election stories from beyond the presidential field:

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Suzanne Bonamici Sworn In As Newest Member Of U.S. Congress [Oregonian]

Richard Carmona Staffs Up In Arizona Senate Race [The Hill]

NRCC Announces 'Contender' Candidates [Roll Call]

Elizabeth Warren Invokes JFK [@elizabethforma]

Emphasis On Local Money In U.S. Senate Race In Hawaii [Honolulu Civil Beat]

'ShePAC' Rallies For Conservative GOP Women [Reuters]

NYC Vendor Who Alerted Police To Times Square Bomb Is Running For Congress [HuffPost]

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Ohio Democratic Candidate Releases 'Halftime In Ohio' Ad [YouTube]