Tammy Baldwin (D): 44 (45)While Democrats in the know were cheering Todd Akin's victory in a closely contested three-way primary in Missouri a few weeks ago (and, given the events of the last few days, you know exactly why), they were a lot less glib with the victory by ex-four-term-Gov. Tommy Thompson in a similarly closely fought Republican Senate primary in Wisconsin one week later. And here's the reason why: Compared with Thompson's untested and more explicitly right-wing opponents, Thompson has polled fairly well against Democratic nominee Rep. Tammy Baldwin. And, with the first polls coming out since last week's primary, it's clear that's continued post-primary; in fact, Thompson's position may well have gotten better thanks to a post-primary unity bump, an overall Wisconsin bump for the GOP from Paul Ryan's addition to the ticket, or both.
Tommy Thompson (R): 49 (45)
Undecided: 7 (11)
PPP's Tom Jensen points out that the best explanation for Thompson's improvement seems to be that he's consolidated any remaining GOP voters who weren't voting for him previously; he leads 93-4 among Republicans, up from an 84-7 share in their last poll (where the Baldwin/Thompson race was tied). Thompson's also up to 46/43 favorables overall, after being at 40/47 last month; again, that comes from Republicans, as among only GOPers—now reconciled to the fact that they're going to have to vote for him, instead of one of his more conservative challengers, in November—he went from 60/26 last month to 80/12 now.
Baldwin, by contrast, is at 40/45 favorables. That doesn't seem to have a lot to do with her sexual orientation—by a 64/23 margin, voters said they'd be okay with supporting an LGBT candidate for office—but more a question of ideology. Forty-five percent of the respondents said they'd want the Republicans to control the Senate while 44 percent preferred the Democrats, so this is a very different situation from PPP's recent Massachusetts poll where a lot of voters preferred the Democrats to be in charge and were voting for Scott Brown anyway.
This is, of course, the same PPP sample that was notoriously +1 for Mitt Romney, which has led to some suspicions that the whole thing might be too Republican-leaning. Indeed, the presidential topline of the poll points in that direction; it self-identifies 32 percent Democratic and 34 percent GOP, and it went 53-41 for Barack Obama in 2008, compared with an actual '08 vote of 56-42. However, Wisconsin has gone through a lot of upheaval since 2008, and the sample does seem to match one more recent (and potentially more telling) benchmark; on the question of support for Republican Gov. Scott Walker or a Generic D, Walker wins 51-46, very close to the actual margin of this year's recall election. (It is also worth noting that this is PPP's first Wisconsin poll since moving to the likely voter model, which generally creates a pro-Republican shift.)
Tammy Baldwin (D): 41 (43)A second poll shows an even bigger gap for Baldwin, although, unlike PPP, it's a pollster who has routinely put up numbers showing Thompson winning over Baldwin by a significant margin. It's from Charles Franklin at Marquette Law School, whom you might remember from coming the closest to pinning down the margin in the gubernatorial recall. They find similar favorables as PPP does, with Thompson at 40/38 and Baldwin at 32/37.
Tommy Thompson (R): 50 (48)
On the other hand, this same sample has Barack Obama looking like he's in reasonable shape in Wisconsin, up 3, leading Mitt Romney 49-46. (That's changed little from the previous poll before Ryan's VP selection, which put Obama up 50-45.) At any rate, though, there's a big difference between the two polls: PPP finds Baldwin lagging Obama only by a few points, seeming to rise and fall with broader Democratic fortunes, while Marquette has usually found a lot more distance between her and the top of the Democratic ticket. Either way, she has a lot of minds to change in the next few months.