The Washington Times - August 1, 2012, 07:56AM

Wisconsin U.S. Senate candidate and political newcomer Eric Hovde has overtaken former Gov. Tommy Thompson to seize a slight lead in their Republican primary race, according to two polls released Tuesday.

A poll by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shows Mr. Hovde leading the race with 28 percent of the vote to 25 percent for both Mr. Thompson and former Rep. Mark Neumann. The three will compete Aug. 14 in a four-man primary for the right to take on Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin in this fall’s general election.

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The candidates are vying to replace Democratic Sen. Herbert H. Kohl, who is retiring.

A second poll released by We Ask America shows Mr. Hovde and Mr. Thompson in a virtual dead heat, with Mr. Hovde leading the former governor and U.S. Health and Human Services secretary 23.2 percent to 22.8 percent. The poll showed Mr. Neumann at 16.7 percent.

Mr. Hovde, a 48-year-old hedge fund manager, has surged from last place just a few months ago to catch up to Mr. Thompson, who had long been the heavy Republican favorite. He has done so by painting himself as more conservative than the relatively moderate Mr. Thompson and by spending $4 million of his own money on a campaign that has invested heavily in radio and TV advertising.

Polls over the past month have shown the candidates to be in a tight race, followed by Mr. Neumann and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.