Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) is considering running for retiring Sen. Herb Kohl's (D) Senate seat, according to several Republican officials who have been involved in initial conversations with Thompson.
Thompson has spoken with top officials at the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, two GOP officials told Hotline On Call. However, he is waiting to see whether Rep. Paul Ryan (R) runs for the seat, one official said.
If he gets in the race, Thompson would give Republicans a top-tier contender who has won statewide in an historically Democratic state four times. Thompson served as Wisconsin's governor from 1987 until 2001, when President George W. Bush tapped him to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
But Thompson has not run for election in Wisconsin since 1998, when he won with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He has toyed with a return to politics in recent years; he mounted a brief bid for the Republican presidential campaign in 2007, dropping out after just more than four months after formally entering the race. Thompson also considered running for governor or against Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in 2010, though he passed on both races.
Thompson would become the Republican front-runner, but there's no guarantee he would have the primary to himself. Former Rep. Mark Neumann (R) had held conversations with top GOP officials even before Kohl dropped out, and most observers believe he is likely to run. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who won re-election in 2010, and ex-Rep. Mark Green, who lost a bid for governor in 2006, are also contemplating bids.
Feingold, who lost his seat in 2010, may try to regain his seat, though Democratic officials pointed to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Reps. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Kind as potential contenders. When Kohl announced Friday he would not seek another term, Feingold did not indicate whether he would contemplate the race, while Baldwin is reportedly taking a strong look at the seat.
Democrats were surprised when Kohl said he would not run for a fifth term. DSCC chairwoman Patty Murray encouraged senators up for re-election in 2012 to declare early whether or not they would run again. Kohl's departure puts a ninth Democratic Senate seat in play, a troubling prospect for a party that holds the majority by a narrow three seats.