Senate, former Wisconsin GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson, is expected to announce his candidacy for the Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, who recently announced he was retiring.
Thompson, who served as President George W. Bush's Health and Human Services Secretary, has told GOP officials in Wisconsin and D.C. he intends to run if Ryan passes up the open Kohl seat. Ryan has made it clear in recent days he prefers his perch as chairman of the House Budget Committee -- where he believes he can influence, if not drive, the debate on fiscal policy -- to a seat in the Senate.
Thompson, 69, served as governor from 1987 to 2001 and defined his policy chops with comprehensive welfare reform -- called Wisconsin Works. The issue of welfare reform became an important component of the 1994 Contract With America. House Republicans under Speaker Newt Gingrich championed Thompson's reforms and clashed repeatedly with President Clinton, who vetoed the first two welfare reform bills the GOP-led 104th Congress sent to his desk.
Thompson and other GOP governors of that era worked with Gingrich to create a bipartisan national welfare reform bill that President Clinton, eyeing reelection, signed in 1996.
Tighter work requirements and limiting eligibility to welfare payments eventually removed 3 million families from welfare rolls (9 million individuals total).
Thompson also pushed for school choice in Wisconsin, creating the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program in 1989 that allowed low-income families to tap state funds to send their children to whichever public or private school they chose -- at no cost.
In Washington, Thompson served as Bush's first HHS Secretary and led the fight to win congressional approval of Medicare Part D, which provided the first-ever government-funded prescription drug benefits to seniors. Conservatives are generally nonplussed by Medicare Part D, but program costs projections are far lower than original projections. In 2010, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Part D costs were 43% lower from 2004-2013 than the original $634 billion. The agency said the new ten-year cost estimate is $373 billion.
Thompson ran briefly for president in 2008 but dropped out quickly when he failed to gain traction in Iowa.
Thompson is a proven vote-getter in Wisconsin, but its been a decade since he's hit the campaign circuit and it may take some time for him to knock the rust off. Still, his name recognition, fund-raising prowess and record of policy innovation make him a formidable candidate in a race Democrats were not expecting to contest two months ago.