It didn't take long for the candidates to go on the offensive during Monday's U.S. Senate debate, as the top candidates took each other to task for their negative ads and records.
Hedge fund manager Eric Hovde claimed he was staying positive while being attacked by other candidates, citing former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann's ad comparing him to Barack Obama and Thompson's more recent ad attacking Hovde.
"As I often say, our country is on fire," Hovde said on the debate, which was moderated by conservative talk show host Jerry Bader. "We're heading off a financial cliff. And instead of talking about the issues that are meaningful and how to get our country turned around, it seems since the day I've gotten into this race, I've had career politicians who've done nothing but attack me."
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson batted back Hovde's claim, saying he was the first candidate to launch an attack against him. He also brought up Hovde's $500 donation to former Dem Gov. Jim Doyle. While Hovde claimed Scott Walker was not running against Doyle, Thompson pointed out that Walker was planning on running for the office at the time of the donation. Walker eventually dropped out of the GOP primary against Mark Green.
"[Hovde's] literature, he puts out the information, all you can do is base your comments on the literature that's put out by Eric Hovde," Thompson said. "We don't know about this individual. All we know is the positive campaign he put on, but he was the first one to strike on a negative campaign."
Neumann also pointed a few barbs at Hovde. He engaged in a back-and-forth with Hovde over whether he'd vote for a balanced budget that included "revenue enhancers" -- to which Hovde said no -- defended his ads attacking Hovde and hit Hovde on investing in banks that took TARP funds.
"I want you to think about bank bailouts," Neumann said to Hovde. "My friends in the home building business, they were going under and the government didn't bail them out."
Neumann started his closing statement chastising Hovde for challenging Thompson's intelligence during an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Hovde pointed out duplication in Neumann's budget plan while also calling him a "career candidate the last 20 years of your life." He also targeted Thompson for comments he made to Wisconsin Eye last week, claiming that Thompson said Social Security is not a problem. He also struck out at Thompson on his spending record as governor.
"You talk about record and all the things you did, you also increased the size of the state budget by 118 percent," Hovde said. "You also increased taxes and fees by $400 million."
Thompson tore into Hovde on a range of issues following those claims, saying Medicare goes broke before Social Security, was a "much bigger problem" and that Hovde didn't "understand it." He also rebuffed Hovde's criticism of his record.
"You fall right into the Democratic trap," Thompson said. "That says that if it's a tax cut, it's spending. Well, I'm going to tell you I gave the property tax [payers] of the state of Wisconsin 1 billion, 200 million dollars not once but twice, and you call that spending. I call that a tax cut. You're just plain wrong."
Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald stayed largely away from the fray, instead promoting his own brand as a "Walker conservative" and noting that with him "what you see is what you get."