(MADISON, Wis.) — In election-weary Wisconsin, a familiar face has emerged victorious.
Former governor, Health and Human Services secretary, and momentary 2008 presidential candidate Tommy Thompson won Wisconsin’s Republican Senate primary on Tuesday, staving off three GOP rivals.
The result is a win for an established figure and a loss for Tea Partiers and free-market groups in Washington, D.C.
The usual suspects in conservative politics were divided sharply over the race. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann mounted a late charge reflected in polls, with backing from the Club for Growth, Tea Party Express, and Sen. Jim DeMint, whose Senate Conservatives Fund unveiled an ad for Neumann last week.
The three groups poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race over the last week, airing ads on TV and online, and sending mailers in support of Neumann.
Throughout the race, polls showed Thompson and businessman Eric Hovde as the leaders, with Neumann surging late.
Hovde was endorsed by FreedomWorks, the small-government group headed by former House majority leader Dick Armey, and the Iowa-based free-market group American Future Fund, but he angered anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist by refusing to sign his pledge against voting for tax hikes.
Outside groups piled on Hovde, as Americans for Tax Reform ran phone calls against him, while the Club for Growth spent $339,000 and the 501(c)6 business group Americans for Job Security spent nearly $650,000 in the past two weeks airing ads that hit Hovde on taxes and sought to tie him to bailed out banks.
Neumann’s loss is a blow to his Washington backers, but it would have been more severe had Hovde won, given that the Club for Growth reported spending $1.6 million to attack him.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Frank Pallotta, CNN
Daniella Diaz and Jeff Zeleny, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN
David Goldman, CNN