MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde said Thursday that he regrets saying that the media should stop writing "sob stories" about food stamp recipients because last week's comments have been widely misinterpreted.
Hovde, at a campaign stop in Brookfield last week, said that the media should stop covering sad stories about low-income people who can't get benefits and instead focus on broader issues, such as the national debt.
Hovde, a hedge fund investor running his first campaign, said Thursday at a luncheon sponsored by wispolitics.com that focusing on his comment distracts from the larger issue about the threat of an economic collapse that would devastate the poor and middle class.
He said he regrets making the comment because it didn't portray his true feelings and was taken out of context. The story was first reported by The Huffington Post and generated reports and online comments attacking Hovde as an out-of-touch millionaire who doesn't care about the poor.
"I've spent my life, a big chunk of it, building homeless shelters around the globe," Hovde said after the forum. "I've been more involved than probably 99.9 percent of Americans, not just with money, but with my own personal efforts helping those that are disadvantaged."
Hovde is in a four-way Republican race for the nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin for the open U.S. Senate seat. Other Republicans running are former Gov. Tommy Thompson, state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann. The GOP primary is Aug. 14.
A Marquette University Law School poll released on Wednesday showed Thompson leading the GOP field with 34 percent support. Neumann had 16 percent, Hovde was third with 14 percent and Fitzgerald had 10 percent. Twenty-five percent of those polled were undecided.
Hovde became emotional Thursday when talking about his charitable work, which he said includes volunteering at food kitchens, paying for students to attend a Jesuit academy and starting a foundation that's built homeless shelters in six different countries.
"I've never talked about it publically because I keep it very low profile," Hovde said of his charitable activities.
His campaign website touts Hovde Homes, the foundation he established to build homeless shelters around the world. And in the wake of the controversy over his comments about poor people, Hovde issued a fundraising plea to supporters in which he details his charity work.
Hovde said in the letter he's being unfairly attacked by liberals Arianna Huffington and Reverend Al Sharpton, and he even challenged Huffington to a debate.
He also said Thursday that there's no way the race won't end up "getting nasty" soon.
"My guess is I'll have to throw some kind of counterpunch," Hovde said. "I've been attacked since the day I've walked into this race behind the scenes and in a lot of different ways."
Thompson's campaign spokesman, Darrin Schmitz, said whether the campaign turns nasty is up to Hovde and Neumann.
"They're far behind and desperate," Schmitz said. "Counterpunch is code for negative attack, but it's already clear Hovde will spend the millions he made on Wall Street betting against taxpayers and homeowners to tear down Tommy Thompson."
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