Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst became just the latest in a line of establishment Republicans to lose in Senate primaries this year, and it looks former Wisconsin Gov.,Tommy Thompson could be next on the list, according to Public Policy Polling. The newest Wisconsin poll finds real estate developer Eric Hovde leading with 28 percent to 25 percent for Thompson and builder Mark Neumann, and 13 percent for state Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald.
Thompson's seen a precipitous decline in his standing with GOP voters over the last 5 months. In February he was at 39 percent. By early July he had dropped to 29 percent in our polling and he's continued to decline now to his 25 percent standing. His personal image has taken a big hit as well. Where his favorability with primary voters earlier in the year was a +47 spread at 66/19, it's now declined 41 points to only +6 at 47/41.
It is concern about whether Thompson, who also served as President George W. Bush’s first Health and Human Services Secretary, is sufficiently conservative that is driving a lot of his problems. 58 percent of primary voters now say they want someone more conservative than him to be the nominee, compared to only 29 percent who are content with him. And he's posting extremely weak numbers with voters identifying as 'very conservative,' getting 21 percent to 28 percent each for Hovde and Neumann.
The momentum in this contest is on Neumann's side. He's gained 10 points over the last month to go from 15 percent to 25 percent. His strength is coming from the most conservative wing of the GOP electorate. In early July he trailed Hovde by 20 points, 32-12, with those voters describing themselves as 'very conservative.' Now he's pulled into a tie with him at 28 percent.
Hovde remains the unexpected leader in this contest but his momentum has stalled a good bit over the last month. His share of the vote has dropped from 31 percent to 28 percent, and his favorability has gone from a 50/9 spread to a 50/30 spread. At one time it seemed like everybody was forming a positive opinion as they became familiar with him but that trend has reversed itself to some extent in the last month.
There's a pretty strong argument for why any of these three guys could emerge victorious. Hovde has the lead. Neumann has the momentum. And Thompson could still survive where David Dewhurst and Richard Lugar did not because of the split in the conservative ranks. In a head to head with Hovde he would trail 48-41. In a head to head with Neumann he would trail 47-42. But they could just end up splitting the vote enough to let Thompson win yet.