MADISON, Wis. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson refused to inject himself into the hotly contest Republican contest for Wisconsin's other Senate seat on Tuesday, saying he knows who he will vote for but doesn't want to go public with the choice.
Four Republicans are vying for the nomination to be determined Aug. 14: former Gov. Tommy Thompson, hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann.
Thompson on Tuesday won the support of former House speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who campaigned with him in La Crosse. Neumann began a three-day bus tour with the Tea Party Express, a national group that endorsed him last week. And Hovde won a victory over an attack ad by a third party group, which altered language in the spot after Hovde complained it was false.
The winner of the Republican primary will take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin in the Nov. 6 election. Whoever is elected then will join Johnson, a Republican, in representing Wisconsin in the Senate.
Johnson, speaking to reporters following a luncheon organized by political website wispolitics.com, said there would be no benefit to him endorsing a Republican in the primary because he will support whichever candidate wins.
"I will be fully supportive of whoever emerges," Johnson said. "I've got pretty good confidence in the Republican primary voters to make a good choice."
The Republican contest has turned nasty in recent weeks with Neumann, Hovde and Thompson attacking one another and outside groups spending millions to influence the race.
A Virginia-based independent group called Americans for Job Prosperity is spending at least $650,000 on an ad attacking Hovde that began running on Friday. The group on Tuesday announced it was altering the ad after Hovde complained to television stations that it was false and should be removed from the air.
Stephen DeMaura, president of Americans for Job Prosperity, said language in the ad was altered in response to a complaint made by Hovde's attorney.
The change affects language in the ad that originally claimed Hovde was sued for tax evasion. It was changed to say instead that Hovde tried avoiding property taxes claiming a break he wasn't owed.
DeMaura says the new version will run through Monday.
Hovde on Tuesday released his own new ad touting removal of the original ad and attacking both Neumann and Thompson.
Anti-tax champion Grover Norquist on Monday faulted Hovde for being the only one of the four candidates not to sign his pledge against raising taxes, saying if elected he would vote with Democrats and raise taxes.
Hovde's campaign responded that he had signed his own pledge not to raise taxes instead of the one Norquist peddles to candidates across the country.
Despite the bruising GOP primary, Johnson said he believed it was good for Republicans to address the issues now before the general election. He said he believes whoever emerges will be a strong challenger to Baldwin.
"If they run a good campaign and they really discuss the primary issues facing this country, they've got a pretty good shot," Johnson said.
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