MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Former two-term Republican congressman Mark Neumann announced Monday that he will run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl.
Neumann is the first to officially announce his candidacy in the 2012 race, but several other prominent Republicans and Democrats are expected to announce soon. One of them, former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, released a statement welcoming Neumann into the race and urging him to focus his campaign on the policies of President Barack Obama and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"Republican voters deserve a primary campaign based on the issues," Thompson consultant Darrin Schmitz said in the statement.
Neumann, who announced his decision on WTMJ radio in Milwaukee, refrained from criticizing Thompson even though the former governor has been the target of attack ads being run statewide by the national conservative Republican group Club for Growth.
The 30-second spot includes an edited clip of Obama saying Thompson supported health care reform and criticizing Thompson's fiscal record in Wisconsin. Neumann said he would work to overturn Obama's health care reforms.
Neumann said he has no ties with Club for Growth, which backs conservative candidates, but that he hopes to secure the group's support. He also said he respects Thompson but that he views his opponent to be Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who hasn't formally announced her decision to run. A spokesman for Baldwin said she had no comment Monday.
Neumann, 57, said the race is about tackling unemployment and crippling national debt.
"The day of reckoning isn't in 50 years, it's coming now," Neumann said in the statement.
Neumann said in an interview that to win he must clearly articulate a plan for solving the nation's debt problem because no other issue looms as large with voters.
"The winning path for us is to stay focused on a plan for balancing the federal budget," he said.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate branded Neumann an extremist whose only support comes from "tea party zealots who seek tax breaks for billionaires financed by the end of Medicare and Social Security."
Thompson has been busy working behind the scenes to shore up support among prominent Republicans, even though he has yet to officially announce his candidacy. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, along with the adviser who helped run his four gubernatorial races, are on board co-chairing a Thompson advisory committee.
Thompson hasn't been on the ballot in Wisconsin since 1998.
In addition to his failed run for governor last year, Neumann also ran for the U.S. Senate in 1998 when he lost to Russ Feingold. He served four years in Congress before that. In the governor's race GOP primary, Neumann got 39 percent of the vote in his loss to Scott Walker.
Neumann said that race taught him the importance of starting the campaign early, which is why he announced his candidacy for the Senate race Monday, more than a year before the primary.
"When you look at the race that we're facing right now, getting early is very important," Neumann said.
Feingold announced last week that he would not be running for office in 2012. In addition to Baldwin, other Democrats considering a run for the Senate are U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse and former U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen of Appleton.
Possible Republican candidates include state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon, state Sen. Frank Lasee of De Pere and former state Sen. Ted Kanavas of Brookfield.
Fitzgerald is close to announcing his intentions to run, but has yet to form a campaign committee or take other steps to make it official, said his spokesman, John Jagler. Fitzgerald said over the weekend that he was "99 percent" certain to run and Jagler said that remained the case Monday.