Thompson had flirted with a 2008 presidential bid, but decided against it. His claim to fame outside Wisconsin is as the governor who authored welfare-to-work legislation that later became the blueprint for welfare reform during the Clinton presidency. Thompson later became secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush and, in recent years, has been an influential Washington lobbyist.
Thompson has a reputation as a moderate who strikes compromises with Democrats, says Arnold Shober, a government professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.
“He represents a George W. Bush version of what Republicans should be: that government is a good thing, that we don’t need to get rid of it; tax relief is good, but let’s also make government do good stuff. He compromised,” Mr. Shober says.
That was then. Pressured by at least two primary opponents with ties to the tea party movement, Thompson sought to portray himself as a hardliner. He brought in reinforcements, from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to conservative rocker Ted Nugent, to vouch for his conservative credentials and to counter accusations that he was a big spender during his four terms as governor. Thompson also pledged to vote to repeal President Obama's health-care reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.