MADISON (AP) — Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate attacked one another over negative advertising during a live radio debate Monday, just 15 days before the primary election.
The campaign has grown increasingly negative as the primary nears, with outside groups and the leading candidates turning on one another in television ads.
The winner of the four-person GOP primary on Aug. 14 will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin in November. The seat is open due to the retirement of Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl.
In the debate, both Mark Neumann and Tommy Thompson said political newcomer Eric Hovde was largely unknown to voters and would be tied to negative ads he's running against both of them. A fourth candidate, state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, has yet to run an ad.
"We're seeing past your actual commercials and who you are," Neumann said to Hovde, who was seated next to him. "Eric, you've missed it. People in Wisconsin are smart and you would know that if you had been here in the past 24 years."
Neumann served four years in Congress in the 1990s. He is a home builder who most recently ran for governor in 2010 but lost in the GOP primary to Gov. Scott Walker.
Hove is running his first campaign and spent at least $4 million of his own money on the race. He grew up in Madison but lived in Washington, D.C., for 24 years before returning to Wisconsin last year.
Hovde fought back in the debate, saying he was running factual ads while spots against him were "complete distortions."
Both Thompson and Neumann, along with the Club for Growth that has endorsed Neumann, are running ads against Hovde.
Thompson, the former 14-year governor last on the ballot in Wisconsin in 1998, criticized Hovde for running a negative ad against him.
"I thought we were going to be on a high level and have a positive campaign," Thompson said. "I'm the most positive, optimistic person ever. I wish we could get back to that."
Polls show Thompson leading, although Hovde has been closing the gap. Neumann has been consistently third with Fitzgerald last.
Fitzgerald said the negative ads are what lead to voter fatigue and Republicans should instead be focused on Baldwin.
The candidates largely agree on the federal budget, saying spending and government programs need to be cut to bring it into balance.
The Republican candidates have one more debate planned for Aug. 10 before the election, which is scheduled to be broadcast live statewide.
Monday's debate was moderated by WTAQ-Radio talk show host Jerry Bader. Questions were posed by three broadcast journalists to the candidates who sat next to one another at a table.
The debate was live streamed on the Internet and broadcast live on radio stations in Green Bay, Sheboygan and Wausau.
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