MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Although she normally votes Republican, Lynn Janka stared Wednesday at the names of the two major candidates in Wisconsin's Senate race before turning in her absentee ballot without marking either box.
The primary reason: too much negative campaigning.
"All you heard all are those nasty commercials on both sides," Janka, 48, a Waukesha cook, said after casting her ballot. "I didn't care for that at all."
It's little surprise that voters such as Janka are fed up. The more than $50 million spent on the race between former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin makes it the most expensive Senate election in state history. According to one study, it's almost the most negative Senate campaign in the country.
A Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday shows Baldwin's standing has improved in the wake of one of the most negative ads in the race questioning Baldwin's patriotism for voting against a resolution honoring victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
While Baldwin and Thompson were effectively tied in a poll done two weeks ago before the ads, the latest one shows Baldwin slightly ahead: 47 percent to 43 percent. The poll of 1,243 likely voters was done between Oct. 25 and Sunday and had a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.
Should Baldwin defeat Thompson, it would mark a dramatic and surprising victory for Democrats in a race many saw as Thompson's to lose coming on the heels of big Republican gains since 2010.
The turning point in the race came in September, when Baldwin and her allies outspent Thompson 3-to-1 on advertising, said Marquette pollster Charles Franklin. During that time Baldwin went from trailing Thompson as she had since February to either being about even or ahead as she was in Wednesday's poll.
Since being outspent on the air, Thompson and his allies have rebounded and helped make the race the most expensive Senate campaign in Wisconsin history.
Baldwin's ads have cast Thompson as not caring about Wisconsin ever since he left government and earned millions in the private sector in Washington.
Thompson's ads have portrayed Baldwin as an extreme liberal. Many of the spots show unflattering images of Baldwin including footage of her from a rally earlier this year shouting, "You're damn right!"
But the rhetoric went to an even higher level last week with an ad from Thompson and a response ad by Baldwin related to the 9/11 attacks. Thompson's ad questioned Baldwin's 2006 vote against a resolution honoring victims of the attacks. Baldwin voted nine times for similar resolutions but didn't in 2006 because she said Republicans politicized the vote by injecting language praising GOP policies she opposed.