Tommy Thompson is gaining on Russ Feingold as the likelihood of his candidacy increases, and now trails just 47-44. Feingold had a 50-41 advantage when PPP looked at a hypothetical contest back in November. Nevertheless the poll finds warning signs for Thompson on the road ahead.
Feelings toward Feingold and Thompson are highly polarized with neither having much in the way of crossover support. Feingold's approval rating is a 45/41 spread with 73% of Democrats approving of him and 71% of Republicans disapproving of him. Thompson's favorability is a negative 40/44 spread with 70% of Republicans viewing him positively and 73% of Democrats holding an unfavorable view. Independents are relatively split on both politicians, with Feingold getting a 46/43 approval rating with them and Thompson standing at 40/40.
Both candidates continue to have their parties lined up overwhelmingly behind them with 89% of Democrats supporting Feingold and 83% of Republicans going for Thompson. The main reason the race has tightened since November is that Thompson is now ahead 45-40 with independents, where he trailed 47-41 before. The shift toward him among independents is reflective of the national trend with those voters, who are leaning toward the GOP in generic ballot polling and in most individual races this year.
One thing that could be a major liability for Thompson if he decides to make the race is what he's been doing in the private sector since leaving the Bush administration. Only 1% of Wisconsin voters have a favorable opinion of Washington lobbyists to 77% who view them negatively, and if Thompson can be effectively portrayed as such it has the potential to be a major liability in his campaign.
For now though it looks like a Thompson-Feingold race would be a toss up. And it appears a Thompson candidacy is the only way this contest will be close. Against existing Republican candidates Terrence Wall and Dave Westlake, Feingold leads by margins of 48-34 and 48-31 respectively.
For the GOP to have even a small chance at taking back the Senate this year, this is a seat it probably needs to win. Thompson's final decision could have pretty significant national implications.
Full results here