Tommy Thompson told WisPolitics.com Monday that he wanted to run for guv this fall, but opted against a bid because his family was solidly opposed to him seeking the office he once held for 14 years.
Thompson, who formally announced Monday he won’t run, said in a phone interview that former President Trump encouraged him to get into the race during a meeting several weeks ago and he heard from others that wanted him to run again.
But Thompson said his wife, three children and their spouses, and his nine grandchildren were all opposed to him mounting a campaign.
“You know me, I want to run,” Thompson said. “I want to lead this state. I want to solve problems. I want to bring the parties together. I want to build Wisconsin, not tear it down, and that’s why I think I would’ve been the strongest candidate, and that is why I wanted to run. But I can’t run with my family being opposed to me running. You need your family with you, and they weren’t going to be with me. I acquiesce to them. It’s that simple.”
With Thompson’s decision, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, businessman Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Tim Ramthun are the most high-profile Republicans in the field to take on Dem Gov. Tony Evers.
Thompson said he believes the current field is strong enough to beat Evers. Still, he also said there is a “very good possibility” that businessman Tim Michels will run for guv.
Sources indicated that Thompson and Michels had met recently as they both explored guv runs.
Michels, who lost a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2004, didn’t return a call Monday seeking comment. Thompson demurred when asked by WisPolitics.com if he would endorse the businessman if he got into the race.
“Right now, I’m still supporting my own candidacy,” Thompson said.
Thompson was first elected to the office in 1986 and went on to win reelection three times as he became the longest serving governor in Wisconsin history. He resigned midway through his fourth term to join George W. Bush’s administration as secretary of Health and Human Services.
After leaving the cabinet, Thompson also flirted with gubernatorial bids in 2006 and 2010 before running for U.S. Senate in 2012 and losing to Dem Tammy Baldwin.
As he completed a two-year run as president of the UW System, Thompson said he would again consider running for the office. That chatter picked up in recent weeks, particularly after Thompson traveled to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump. Beloit billionaire and GOP megadonor Diane Hendricks also participated in the meeting.
Thompson called Hendricks a “very special person” and a friend who along with her late husband supported his first run for the Assembly.
He made the trip to Trump’s Florida resort “to find out what the president’s position was and to talk to him.” Thompson said it was part of the effort he made to talk to various people about a bid.
“He just encouraged me to be a candidate, and I appreciate that,” he said.
Thompson, 80, said he still wants to serve and is considering what he might do next. Among other things, he mentioned international health as a particular interest, particularly with the war in Ukraine.
“There’s something out there. I don’t know what it is yet,” Thompson said. “I certainly will not retire. I certainly am going to be active, and I love politics, and I love the state.”