GREEN BAY — None of the four Republican candidates for U.S. Senate was able to capture 60 percent of support at the state party convention Saturday, meaning no one will get the party's official endorsement.
The vote was an especially tough blow to former Gov. Tommy Thompson — who was first elected to public office in 1966 — as he was eliminated in the second round of voting after getting just 18 percent support. It also served as a stinging rebuke to political newcomer Eric Hovde, who was eliminated in the first round of voting with 16 percent.
Saturday provided a boost to state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, who has dramatically trailed both Thompson and Hovde in fundraising but emerged with the most support from Republican Party faithful after the third and final round of voting.
Still, he couldn't reach the threshold required to get the endorsement and the money, access to the party's grass-roots network and other support that comes with it. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann came in second behind Fitzgerald in the final vote.
Fitzgerald was jubilant about the surprise win even though it wasn't enough to secure the endorsement.
"It definitely breathes life into our campaign," he said.
Thompson and Hovde's campaigns were quick to downplay their early exits.
"You've got to take these with a grain of salt and move back onto the campaign," said Thompson campaign consultant Darrin Schmitz. "It's not indicative, necessarily, of where support lies."
Hovde's spokesman, Sean Lansing, also said the results were not indicative of what will happen in the Aug. 14 primary.
For example, Rebecca Kleefisch was the first lieutenant governor candidate to drop out of the endorsement race in 2010, but she went on to win the primary.
Fitzgerald gave the most fiery speech of the group Saturday, recounting the dramatic days last year when he helped push through Gov. Scott Walker's proposal curbing public workers' collective bargaining rights despite massive protests, death threats and a Democratic filibuster that lasted three days.
He ended up with 51.5 percent of the vote in the final round, compared with 48.5 percent for Neumann.
Fitzgerald was first elected to the Assembly in 2000 and became speaker in 2011. He has never run for statewide office before.
Accusations of wrongdoing were flying before the vote, with claims that Neumann supporters were aggressively signing up as delegates to skew the vote in his favor. A spokesman for Hovde's campaign accused Neumann of running an "AstroTurf" campaign, which means there is a manufactured appearance of grass-roots support. Neumann's campaign maintained it was following the rules.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is the only Democrat in the Senate race. The seat is open due to the retirement of Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl. It is seen as a key race for Democrats to win to retain control of the Senate.