Thompson declined to be interviewed but instead sent an email statement defending his conservative credentials, citing welfare reform and implementation of school choice programs.
“People said I was too conservative to run for governor,” Thompson said in the email. “I won and we sparked a successful conservative revolution right here in Wisconsin.”
Thompson initially spoke favorably of the law and the need for health care reform, while also raising concerns about some parts of Obama’s proposal, including the mandate forcing people to buy health insurance. As it was working its way through Congress, Thompson called Obama’s proposal “another important step” toward achieving health care reform.
He now favors repeal of the law, saying it wasn’t the right solution.
Just hours before Thompson’s event Thursday, Club for Growth circulated computer screen shots showing Thompson as recently as 2010 was a board member for a coalition called America’s Agenda, which included labor unions and others that advocated passage of Obama’s health care reform law.
Thompson reiterated in his email that he was committed to repealing the Obama health care reforms.
Thompson was the strongest Republican advocate for the law at the time it was being debated, said Canter with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Obama himself even mentioned Thompson in 2009 as a supporter of health care reform, even though most congressional Republicans oppose it.
Thompson is facing a problem common to candidates who run for election after long absences from office, said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. Often the issues of the day and the focus of a party’s agenda shift if there’s a long gap between runs, he said.
“In the 1990s this country was in a time of great prosperity, and at least the federal budget was in surplus,” he said. “It’s a completely different situation now.”
Thompson, who was first elected to the state Assembly in 1966 and was elected governor four times starting in 1986, has cultivated a base of supporters unlikely to leave him, while Fitzgerald and Neumann are fighting over largely the same pool of more conservative voters, said University of Wisconsin political science professor Charles Franklin.
“That divides the more conservative wing of the party which is probably to Thompson’s benefit in a three-way race,” Franklin said. “Anything he does to divide the competition is probably good.”
Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.