A poll by Marquette University Law School showed Tammy Baldwin leading Tommy Thompson 50 percent to 41 percent, a flip from the same poll a month ago that showed Thompson leading 50 percent to 41 percent. The percentage of error was 4.1 percentage points in the latest poll and 4.2 percent in last month’s.
The U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin was tighter in a Quinnipiac University poll also released on Sept. 19 that showed both Baldwin and Thompson with 47 percent support. A month ago, in that poll Thompson had a 6-point lead, 50 percent to 44 percent, just beyond that poll’s 2.5 percentage point margin of error.
“Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race appears to be a dead heat,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette poll, said Baldwin’s strong showing was driven by independent voters who previously favored Thompson 47-37 now going for Baldwin 50-38.
The new numbers shed light on the state of the race just seven weeks from the election and a week before Baldwin and Thompson meet for the first of three televised debates.
Baldwin’s spokesman, John Kraus, said “clearly things are moving in the right direction for the Baldwin campaign.”
Perhaps sensing a shift in the race, Karl Rove’s political action committee, Crossroads GPS, made a $961,000 ad buy targeting Baldwin this week. The group previously spent about $500,000 on anti-Baldwin ads.
“The fact that Karl Rove has come into this state this week with roughly a $1 million buy shows that they know what the public polls are showing,” Kraus said.
Thompson’s spokeswoman, Lisa Boothe, attempted to discredit the Marquette poll, saying it oversampled Democrats. Of those who participated in the poll, 34 percent identified themselves as Democrats and 27 percent were Republicans.
“We do not think it reflects the opinions of Wisconsin voters,” Boothe said.
In the previous Marquette poll that favored Thompson, 32 percent identified as Democrats and 30 percent as Republicans.
Thompson said during a campaign stop on Sept. 18 in Milwaukee that he wouldn’t be surprised if Baldwin had gained on him because she’s spent more on advertising in recent weeks while his campaign was broke and trying to raise money after winning a contentious four-way GOP primary.
Based on the Center for Responsive Politics tally, $4.7 million has been spent on efforts opposing Thompson or supporting Baldwin, compared with $1.5 million on supporting Thompson or opposing Baldwin. Another $2.5 million has been spent supporting or opposing Republican candidates who lost in the primary.
However, that tally, which is based on filings made with the Federal Election Commission, does not include issue ads like those run by Rove’s group that don’t expressly call for a candidate’s election or defeat.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party released its own figures on Sept. 19 based on tracking television ads across the state that show an additional $5.5 million in spending against Baldwin or for Thompson.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which previously said it reserved more than $5 million in ad time for the race, released a new ad attacking Thompson as a Washington-insider out of touch with the middle class.
The anti-Baldwin ads have tried to label her as an extreme Madison liberal who wants to expand government and would hurt the economy.
Through July, Baldwin spent more than twice as much as Thompson on the race: $4.7 million to $2.1 million. Reports showing spending since then are due Oct. 15.
A lot is riding on the race, as Republicans try to win a seat that’s been in Democratic hands since 1957 as part of their larger goal of taking over majority control of the Senate.
A loss by Baldwin would complete a GOP sweep of major offices in Wisconsin that began two years ago when Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold lost to Republican Ron Johnson, Gov. Scott Walker won election and Republicans took control of both houses of the Legislature.
This week’s polls come after Baldwin’s speech at the Democratic National Convention just hours before President Barack Obama. Thompson didn’t speak at the Republican convention.
Another positive for Baldwin: both polls showed Obama with leads in Wisconsin. He was up 6 points in the Quinnipiac poll and 14 points in the Marquette poll.
The Quinnipiac poll of 1,485 likely voters conducted Sept. 11 through Monday has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. The Marquette poll of 601 likely voters was done Sept. 13 through Sunday and has a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.