MADISON, Wis. — Former two-term Republican congressman Mark Neumann announced Monday that he will run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl.
Mr. Neumann is the first to officially announce his candidacy in the 2012 race, but several other prominent Republicans and Democrats are expected to announce soon. One of them, former Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican, released a statement welcoming Mr. Neumann into the race and urging him to focus his campaign on the policies of President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
"Republican voters deserve a primary campaign based on the issues," Thompson consultant Darrin Schmitz said in the statement.
Mr. Neumann, who announced his decision on WTMJ-AM radio in Milwaukee, refrained from criticizing Mr. Thompson even though the former governor has been the target of attack ads being run statewide by the Club for Growth, a national conservative anti-spending group.
The 30-second spot criticizes Mr. Thompson's fiscal record in Wisconsin and includes a clip of Mr. Obama saying Mr. Thompson supported his health care bill, a plan Mr. Neumann said he would work to overturn.
Mr. Neumann said that he respects Mr. Thompson, but that he views his opponent to be U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who hasn't formally announced whether she will run, although she is widely expected to do so. A spokesman for Ms. Baldwin said she had no comment Monday.
Mr. Neumann said the race is about tackling unemployment and crippling national debt.
"The day of reckoning isn't in 50 years, it's coming now," Mr. Neumann said in the statement.
The 57-year-old lawmaker said that to win he must clearly articulate a plan for solving the nation's debt problem because no other issue looms as large with voters.
"The winning path for us is to stay focused on a plan for balancing the federal budget," he said.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate branded Mr. Neumann an extremist whose only support comes from "tea party zealots who seek tax breaks for billionaires financed by the end of Medicare and Social Security."
Mr. Thompson has been busy working behind the scenes to shore up support among prominent Republicans, even though he has yet to officially announce his candidacy. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and the adviser who helped run his four gubernatorial races are on board co-chairing a Thompson advisory committee.
Mr. Thompson hasn't been on the ballot in Wisconsin since 1998.
In addition to his failed run for governor last year, when he lost the Republican primary to eventual Gov. Scott Walker, Mr. Neumann also ran for the U.S. Senate in 1998, when he lost to incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold. He served four years in Congress before that.
Mr. Feingold announced last week that he would not be running for office in 2012. In addition to Ms. Baldwin, other Democrats considering a run for the Senate are U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse and former U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen of Appleton.
Possible Republican candidates include state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon, state Sen. Frank Lasee of De Pere and former state Sen. Ted Kanaras of Brookfield.