MADISON (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker won't say which of the four Republicans running for U.S. Senate he will vote for, but encouraged them Tuesday to stay away from attacking one another in the final two weeks of the primary campaign.
Walker previously said that instead of endorsing someone, he would act as a referee in case any candidate's attack got out of line. Walker was asked at a news conference Tuesday if he had seen anything out of bounds in the increasingly negative race.
"I haven't dropped a flag yet but it's getting pretty close," Walker said.
Hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, former Gov. Tommy Thompson, state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann face each other in the Aug. 14 primary. The winner will advance to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin in the Nov. 6 election.
The Senate seat is open due to the retirement of Democrat Herb Kohl and is seen as a major opportunity for Republicans to gain one of at least three seats needed to take majority control away from the Democrats.
Hovde, Neumann and Thompson are all running attack ads. The conservative Club for Growth and Harry Reid's allies Majority PAC are also running negative ads. Fitzgerald, lagging in the polls and fundraising, is the only candidate not running television ads. He was also the only one not to attack another candidate during their first debate on Monday.
Polls show Thompson with a lead, but Hovde narrowing it. Neumann and Fitzgerald have been consistently behind.
Walker said he thinks the Republicans should stay focused on talking about the differences between one another and Baldwin.
"I haven't seen a blatant lie from anybody," Walker said. "The question is interpretation."
Walker called all four Republicans "outstanding" and he wouldn't talk about who he votes for until after the election. When asked if he knew who he would vote for, Walker said, "I'm watching. Actually, I'm watching closely."
Walker has close political ties with all of the candidates except Hovde, who lived in Washington, D.C., for 24 years before returning to Wisconsin in 2011 and launching his Senate bid.
Walker's political career as a state lawmaker began in 1993 when Thompson was governor. Thompson has talked positively about Walker during the campaign.
Walker and Fitzgerald worked closely together last year as the governor pushed his conservative agenda through the Legislature. Fitzgerald has used his ties to Walker throughout the Senate campaign, saying he has proven himself capable of enacting conservative reforms despite vociferous opposition.
Walker easily defeated Neumann in the 2010 Republican primary race for governor 59 percent to 39 percent. Hovde, who is running his first campaign, has tried to use that against Neumann by saying he attacked Walker too much during that race.
All four of the candidates were vocal supporters of Walker as he fought for his job during the recall campaign. Walker won the June 5 election by 7 points.
The Wisconsin Senate candidates aren't the only ones Walker has been offering campaign advice to since his recall win. He also said presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is being too cautious.
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