MILWAUKEE -

U.S. Senate hopeful Tommy Thompson is trying to reverse his campaign fortunes in a debate with opponent Tammy Baldwin.

Thompson opened the debate at WMVS-TV's Milwaukee studios Friday by labeling Baldwin a taxer and a spender. He said she's extreme and out of the mainstream.

“Complete difference in philosophy and direction between my opponent and myself,” Thompson said.

Baldwin responded by labeling partisan name-calling crazy.

“They call that a conservative?” Baldwin said about what she calls unfunded tax cuts and spending under the Bush administration. “The words have lost their meaning.”

The two battled over health care and the economy.

Thompson took credit for drafting some of the concepts under the Affordable Care Act, but insisted that the president’s health care plan has to go.

“We can change this. We can make health care affordable and accessible, and Obamacare doesn't do that,” Thompson explained.

Baldwin said she’d rather see parties stop arguing over the policy and start taking some action.

“The last thing that we need moving forward is to have Tommy Thompson and others rip up the Affordable Care Act, throw it out, and have more years of partisan bickering over this,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin added that education, research, innovation, and infrastructure deriving from the public sector can be effective in improving the economy. She strongly criticized Thompson’s plans.

“Because he's giving such huge tax breaks to the very wealthy and raising taxes on the middle class and small businesses,” Baldwin explained, “they are slashing those very investments that are essential to our growth.”

“When you don't have a record, you attack the other person. I'm not in Congress. You are. I'm in the private sector creating jobs,” Thompson responded.

Thompson, a Republican who served four terms as Wisconsin's governor, is fighting to recover after polls last week showed the race was a dead heat.  Baldwin, a seven-term Democratic congresswoman from Madison, has the lead.

The former Wisconsin governor acknowledged his campaign was broke after the GOP primary in August.
Karl Rove's political action committee is pouring another $1.2 million into ads attacking Baldwin.