(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
In a rarely used debate format, Wisconsin Senate candidates Tommy Thompson (R), a former governor, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) were permitted to directly spar with each other in unmoderated six-minute chunks on topics picked by voters.
The hourlong debate in Wausau played very much like an extended, spliced-together greatest hits video of Thompson and Baldwin campaign ads, an at times heated back-and-forth defined more by established talking points than off-the-cuff remarks. Given that predictability, and in a race that’s too close to call 19 days before Election Day, it’s unclear whether either candidate was able to sway the few remaining undecided voters in ways their media operations can’t.
The debaters addressed the 2010 health care law, with Baldwin in favor and Thompson opposed; the deficit crisis, with Baldwin calling for higher-earning Americans to pay more and Thompson accusing the Democrat of being a tax-and-spender; and even Wisconsin’s own vice presidential candidate, with Baldwin calling Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget extreme and Thompson trying to distance himself after telling reporters in August that “most people know that Paul and I are close friends and that we teamed up on many issues, especially on Medicare.”
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released earlier this evening had Baldwin leading Thompson 49 percent to 45 percent. A Marquette University poll released Wednesday had Thompson leading Baldwin 46 percent to 45 percent. Sources on both sides of the aisle, in Wisconsin and in Washington, D.C., say that Wisconsin’s Senate contest is among the most competitive in the country and could be decisive in determining the chamber’s majority. Roll Call rates the race as a Tossup.