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'Tammy vs Tommy' Senate race enters home stretch

Associated Press Published: October 28, 2012

In many ways, even though he hasn't been in office in Wisconsin since 2001, Thompson has run like an incumbent. Baldwin, on the other hand, has tried to introduce herself to voters outside of her congressional district while also knocking down the Thompson image.

Baldwin is looking to make history, although it's something she rarely talks about on the campaign trail. If she wins, she would become the state's first female U.S. senator and the first person openly gay candidate to win election to the Senate.

Neither her sexuality, nor the possibility of her being the first woman to represent the state, has been emphasized by either supporters or detractors.

And the latest Marquette poll shows she has a 5-point advantage among women, a gap that's been narrowing as the election nears. And while Baldwin used to have an edge with independent voters in August, they swung toward Thompson in September, and Thompson had a slight edge in the poll released 11 days ago.

"We've seen the independents' ability to fluctuate in who they're supporting," pollster Franklin said. "I don't think there's any reason to believe that's going to change."

While the gender issues have largely been off the table, the campaign has been mostly negative after Thompson won the GOP primary in mid-August.

Baldwin had to go negative on Thompson immediately after the primary to move polls that showed her behind and to convince Democrats nationally that she had a chance to win, said Republican operative Brian Schimming.

Thompson's lead also hurt him initially because Republicans nationally thought he would cruise to victory, said Schimming, who has known Thompson for 35 years and worked in his administration.

Baldwin and her allies outspent Thompson and his backers 3-to-1 in the weeks after the primary, leading to a narrowing in the polls that now show the race tied.

Schimming said Baldwin's campaign is based on convincing voters of two false impressions: that Thompson isn't who voters think he is and that Baldwin isn't as liberal as her record suggests.

Even the 9/11 ads, which appeared to be about the terrorist attacks, were actually driving home the themes of the campaigns.

Thompson used a 2006 vote by Baldwin against a resolution honoring victims of the attack as an example of her extreme views. While Baldwin was one of only 22 House members to vote against it, she explained at the time that it was because Republicans had added language commending other policies like the Patriot Act that she opposed.

In her response ad, Baldwin focused on Thompson's life in the private sector. She criticized him for making $3 million from Logistics Health, a Wisconsin company that won a contract to provide care to 9/11 responders.

While the tone of the campaign has been largely negative, both candidates will have to "close the deal" in the final days, Maslin said.

"You have to both make a final argument about your opponent which sums up what you've been saying all along, but you also have to appeal yourself to voters," Maslin said. "The accumulation of what has been said about both of them, it's going to be hard for people to veer off of that track. I don't think you're going to see dramatic movement in this race in the next 10 days."