Wisconsin Republicans worry about crowded Senate primary

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans are growing increasingly worried about the high number of candidates running in a primary to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, fearing a repeat of the crowded 2012 race that put her in office.

Baldwin is seeking a second term in 2018 and Republicans nationally are targeting her as vulnerable, given huge GOP wins in Wisconsin in November. Donald Trump became the first GOP presidential candidate to carry the state since 1984, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson won re-election and the party increased its majorities in the Legislature.

But with at least seven possible Republican Senate candidates making the rounds, to some the dynamic is looking eerily familiar to 2012. That year four Republicans slugged it out in an expensive and negative primary that left nominee Tommy Thompson, the former four-term governor, bruised and broke.

“You talk to the grass roots and they’re still riding high from the last election,” said Brian Westrate, the chairman of the 3rd Congressional District Republican Party in western Wisconsin. “Those of us who have seen the sausage get made a lot of times are pragmatically concerned about the Senate race.”

Westrate said he would feel better if there was a generally agreed-upon candidate. Instead, there are about four Republicans who are making moves to launch a campaign and at least four others being recruited or thinking about it.

“Any one of them could be a fine candidate,” Westrate said. “It’s just unfortunate as it stands now there isn’t any one of them. There’s six of them.”

Baldwin benefited in 2012 from being unchallenged on the Democratic side as she spent months raising money and defining herself as Republicans slugged it out. She defeated Thompson by nearly 6 percentage points.

She’s taking the same approach now. Baldwin raised $2.2 million in the first three months of this year and had $2.4 million cash on hand. Johnson, at this point in 2015, had raised about $1 million less.

Eric Hovde, a…

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