The four Republican U.S. Senate candidates campaigned across Wisconsin on Monday, one day before a contested primary that state and national politics have overshadowed.
The race got off to a late start because of the gubernatorial recall election, and it again took second billing over the weekend when Republican presidential presumptive nominee Mitt Romney chose U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville as his running mate.
In the Senate race, businessman Eric Hovde, former Gov. Tommy Thompson, former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald tried to spin Ryan's selection as a positive. Political scientists characterized the race as a toss-up.
"Given the uncertainties of the change in focus over the weekend, it's certainly possible for this to go any way," Marquette University Law professor Charles Franklin said. "We leave it to the voters to figure that out."
Last week's Marquette Law School poll, conducted before the vice presidential pick, indicated Thompson's lead had narrowed to 8 percentage points over Hovde, with Neumann in third and Fitzgerald running fourth. The poll had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
The candidates campaigned in Milwaukee, Wausau, La Crosse and Green Bay on Monday, and all planned to vote early Tuesday morning before another day on the road.
Thompson, speaking at a tile company in Wausau, again cited the Marquette poll, which showed he was the only Republican with a head-to-head advantage over Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin in November.
"I am the conservative who can get elected," he said. "I've done it five times. I know I can win, and I know I can help Paul Ryan and Gov. Romney turn this country around."
Madison College political science professor Maurice Sheppard said Thompson would benefit most from a low turnout because of his established base of support. The Government Accountability Board has predicted 20 percent turnout.
A higher turnout could help Neumann, Sheppard said.
"The selection of Paul Ryan motivates the base of the Republican party, particularly tea party conservatives," he said. "If those individuals are motivated to vote (Tuesday), they would support Mark Neumann."
Analysts have said Hovde and Neumann have targeted the more conservative voters, while Thompson is popular among moderates, WISC-TV reported.
"They're seeing that as the qualifications they want and they're coming to the proven conservative in this race," Neumann said in Green Bay.
The other candidates said they were improving their positions on the eve of the primary.
"Paul Ryan's message about deficit reduction and where the direction of our country is heading is exactly the same message I've been speaking about," Hovde said.
"I get a lot of people who were undecided that said, 'You know what, we didn't know who to vote for, but we like the kind of campaign you've run and the other candidates are going negative,'" Fitzgerald said in Green Bay.
The candidates finally took Wisconsin's main political stage over the past few weeks with two debates, but with summer vacations, a post-recall political fatigue and then the Ryan announcement, they haven't gotten much attention, Franklin said.
"I'm sure all four Republican candidates wish Romney had waited until Wednesday to make his announcement, because of the uncertainty of not being the center of attention on the final weekend," he said.