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Former Gov. Tommy Thompson won the bruising Republican primary for U.S. Senate. And the general election race against Democrat Tammy Baldwin has featured plenty of punches from both sides.
Thompson was asked about negative advertising during an Oct. 5, 2012, appearance at a Milwaukee Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon. He expressed disappointment, and said the tone didn’t reflect his personality.
"I’m very sad about the negative ads," Thompson said. "I’m a positive guy. I’m optimistic."
He noted that when he successfully challenged Democrat Gov. Anthony Earl in 1986, the two "ran a fantastic election, we ran an election all over the state and that always was positive."
And then Thompson turned the blame on his opponent.
"Congresswoman Baldwin has had not one positive ad. Not one.... Not one positive ad. Why? Because she hasn’t done anything."
A few days after the statement, the Journal Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert wrote about
a report by Kantar Media CMAG, a D.C. firm that tracks political ads, that found in the 30 days that ended Oct. 2, 2012, 92% of the ads aired in the race were "negative."
What’s more, the report showed that in the weeks after the primary, between Aug. 19 and Sept. 17, 2012, Baldwin and her allies outspent Thompson and his allies almost 3-to-1 on broadcast television.
Complaining and finger-pointing about the tone of the race is nothing new in politics. But Thompson made a very specific claim about Baldwin, and suggested she is to blame for the negativity.
Is he on the money?
To be sure, the battle for the U.S. Senate seat was bitter long before the general election, but only on the Republican side. Thompson topped three opponents in the August primary, while Baldwin faced no opponent, though she has been on television since early summer.
That split nature of the race creates a bit of a problem when it comes to evaluating Thompson’s claim.
Was Thompson talking about the entirety of the campaign or was he referring to the head-to-head battle with Baldwin?
From the context of the specific question, about how negative ads had erased Thompson’s lead in the polls, it’s reasonable to believe Thompson was speaking about ads in the general election race. And he referred to the general election campaign that he waged against former Gov. Earl.
But that’s not what he said -- Thompson said all of Baldwin’s ads had been negative.
We asked his campaign to provide backup for his statement and was told they would get back to us but didn’t.
So, let’s start with the primary season.
That’s when Baldwin was able to play Rock-Paper-Engines. Those were the titles of her TV ads.
A June 17, 2012, ad, "Paper", discussed Baldwin’s efforts to sanction China for breaking trade rules and hurting the U.S. paper industry. The "Rock,"ad, which began running July 9, was biographical in nature. On July 30, 2012, "Engines"began, claiming Baldwin "led the fight" to force the Coast Guard to buy engines from American manufacturers.
None of those ads mentioned Thompson or the other Republican contenders.
That tone changed after the Aug. 14, 2012, primary, starting the following week with an ad called "Choice."
In it, Baldwin talks about three tax-cut votes of her own, and then turns her sights on Thompson, calling him "the guy who’s gotten rich working for D.C. lobbyists" and saying he "wants to give a $265,000 tax cut to millionaires like himself while raising taxes on the middle class."
She followed up a few days later with another ad criticizing Thompson for refusing to release his tax returns.
In an early September ad, Baldwin attacked Thompson’s record as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The ad said Thompson "cut a sweetheart deal with drug companies making it illegal for them to negotiate lower prescription drug prices."
So, since the primary, the ads have been negative. The same can be said of Thompson’s ads.
Baldwin campaign spokesman John Kraus noted Thompson vowed numerous times that he would run a positive campaign. He argued Thompson was the first to go negative against Baldwin, even before the primary and cited a July ad, "Repeal"showing Thompson on a Harley.
In it, Thompson pledges to be the "51st vote" to repeal "Obamacare." Baldwin’s face appears briefly superimposed on the road, with the note she supports the federal health care law. (There is no question about that. She voted for it and has even suggested going further.)
As with the Baldwin side, the negative lines become much clearer after the primary.
In other ads, Thompson has said Baldwin supports a massive tax increase, describes her as "too extreme for Wisconsin," and says she’s more liberal than Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama.
Groups on both sides of the race have also ran negative ads, contributing to the all-negative sense about the race.
At the Press Club event, Thompson said Baldwin had not aired "one positive ad" in the campaign.
That is certainly true for the general election, and it’s reasonable to assume that’s what he was referring to. But a longer view of the campaign, extending before the primary, provides a very different picture.
We rate the claim Half True.
Baldwin campaign ad "Boy Did He, "Sept. 10, 2012
Baldwin campaign ad, "No", Aug. 23, 2012
Baldwin campaign ad, "Choice,"Aug. 17, 2012
Baldwin campaign ad, "Engines," July 30, 2012
Baldwin campaign ad, "Rock," July 9, 2012
Baldwin campaign ad, "Paper," June 21, 2012
Thompson campaign ad, "Lying," Oct. 8, 2012
Thompson campaign ad, "Repeal",July 2012
Emails, John Kraus, Baldwin campaign, Oct. 8, 9, 2012
Emails, Brian Nemoir, Thompson campaign, Oct. 5, 8, 2012
Tommy Thompson appearance, Milwaukee Press Club, Oct. 5, 2012
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Negative attacks fill airwaves in Thompson-Baldwin race,"Oct. 9, 2012
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