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Balanced budget drives Neumann's hopes for Senate, America

By David Wise

MADISON -- With just days left until voters hit the polls, Mark Neumann encourages a crowd of about 50 people at the Copper Top Restaurant on the Beltline to tell their families and friends that he's a “proven conservative” who's been “tested under fire.”

The former congressman expresses confidence as the latest Marquette Poll released Wednesday shows him gaining eight points over his July numbers, and statistically tied for second place with businessman Eric Hovde.

The survey found Tommy Thompson was backed by 28 percent, Hovde, 20 percent, Neumann 18 percent, and Jeff Fitzgerald 13 percent. Twenty-one percent remained undecided.

“There's clearly a surge going on here where people are undecided or a little bit confused, and they're coming home to a proven conservative,” Neumann told WisPolitics.com. “And I think, ultimately, that will decide the race next week.”

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Neumann says his experience and plans set him apart from the other candidates going into Tuesday's primary. Also setting him apart is organizational and ad support from an array of national conservative groups, led by the national Club for Growth.

He served from 1995 to 1999 in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he says he was one of the “principle architects” of a plan that balanced the federal budget. Neumann owns a home-building business, too, which he says makes him the only candidate with 30 years experience creating jobs in Wisconsin. It also gives him the ability once again to pump significant amounts of his own money into his races -- this time nearly $600,000, according to FEC reports. Since leaving the House, Neumann has run for the U.S. Senate in 1998, governor in 2010 and now again for the Senate.

Neumann's put forth a plan that he says would balance the budget in five years and pay off the national debt within 30 years. And to start, he generated a list of 150 line-item cuts to the federal budget. He also vows to repeal “Obamacare” and replace it with market-driven reforms.

Neumann said he's hearing concerns about debt, the deficit and jobs while out on the campaign trail and that voters want to see a balanced federal budget and the repeal of Obamacare.

“They know we're in trouble, and they want somebody who can fix it,” Neumann said.

Neumann's in Madison on a rainy Wednesday with the Tea Party Express on a three-day tour that also includes stops in La Crosse, Eau Claire, Wausau, Milwaukee, Fond du Lac, Appleton, and De Pere.

Neumann had received the official backing of the Tea Party Express less than a week earlier, which he said was a “major endorsement.”

“The Tea Party people, they want to take this government back from the Washington insiders and take control back to the people again,” Neumann said. “It's very uplifting to be part of the Tea Party movement.”

Other key endorsements have included conservative U.S. Sens. Jim DeMint, Rand Paul, Tom Coburn, Mike Lee, and Pat Toomey.

The Madison rally was moved indoors because of the rain. Neumann stood at the door greeting people as they walked in, and did the same afterward as they left.

“I told everybody that I know what an awesome person you are,” a woman told Neumann. “You are a blessing for our community.”

Posting at the doorway before and after events is something Neumann does at every event possible. Another tradition is introducing his wife of 38 years, Sue, a near-constant companion on the campaign trail.

Wednesday's program began with a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and singing of the Star Spangled Banner. The Rivoli Revue duet played some politically themed tunes before and after the speaking program. “If you vote for a conservative Mark Neumann is the way to go” was the refrain for the opener, while the closer had the audience “bawk” like chickens in the chorus after President Barack Obama's first name was mentioned (Barack-bawk-bawk-bawk!).

Neumann is trying to make up for challenging Scott Walker in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, lately with a radio ad in which he tells listeners he never would have run against Walker had he known what a conservative reformer he was going to be, then going on to say how strongly he backed Walker after losing in the primary.

While the Neumann-backing Club for Growth has taken some harsh shots at Thompson and Hovde, Neumann's run negative against Hovde but has spared Thompson from attacks. He even chastised Hovde during a debate for his attacks against the former governor -- perhaps a lesson learned after Neumann drew ire for his negative campaign against Walker during the gubernatorial primary.

Despite the negative tone of the campaign, Neumann said there will be unity on election night.

“I think on election night we're all going to come together,” Neumann said. “I think, to a candidate, our top priority is beating Tammy Baldwin and winning the state for Mitt Romney, and I think we'll come back together just fine.”

Besides the anti-Hovde ads, Neumann's ads have targeted Barack Obama, "Obamacare,'' and wasteful government spending. Popular with the crowd at the Copper Top was an ad in which Neumann talks about his grandson telling him “Grandpa, tell them to stop spending my money!"

Neumann told the crowd his grandson actually said that, but admitted it followed from a conversation the boy's parents had with him previously about why Neumann is running.

Besides commenting on the recent polls, Neumann delivered a version of the standard speech he's given throughout the campaign, in which he promises to work to balance the federal budget, repeal the health care law, and ensure government follows the Constitution.

He takes shots at Obama for a comment about government's role in building businesses, and for putting religious freedom in jeopardy by requiring religious hospitals and insurance companies to provide abortion-inducing drugs.

“Barack Obama needs to be stopped, period.”' Neumann said to applause.

He tells the tale of how after a 1989 family trip to Washington, D.C., he was inspired to run for Congress in 1992 against Les Aspin, a 20-year incumbent. He lost that bid and a special election in 1993 when Aspin was appointed secretary of Defense. He said his first two campaigns were consultant-driven, and he demonstrated to laughs from the crowd how he brought every question he was asked around to a statement about the federal budget. When he ran again in 1994, he said he started giving straight answers to people's questions, and let the chips fall where they may. The strategy proved successful, and he went on to serve two terms.

But Neumann tells the crowd that his first term got off to a rocky start when he defied party leadership on a spending bill and got booted from the Appropriations Committee. But after protesting in a letter he delivered to every member of the House, colleagues rallied to his side and he ended up becoming the first freshman to be assigned to both the Budget and Appropriations committees. He said he was in a position to see where the money was coming from and where it was going, allowing him to be a part of crafting a framework that led to a balanced budget in 1998.

It's that independent conservative spirit Neumann says he will to bring to the Senate, in hopes to pass down a better country for the next generation.

“My dream for the United States of America,” Neumann tells the crowd, “is that that we and our generation can pass this nation on to our children, debt-free, as the strongest nation in the world, economically and from a military perspective.”

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