"He single-handedly tried to destroy the auto industry," Donnelly said in an interview. Donnelly cited his own work with the man Mourdock upended in the bitter Republican primary, six-term Sen. Richard Lugar, to save the auto sector.
Mourdock defends his actions in an ad in which he calls the bailout "unconstitutional and illegal" and boasts about taking on the federal government. Helping Chrysler, he says, "looted" the pensions of retired police officers and teachers.
For all the political potential of these Democrats, the reality is that four years after Obama's decisive win, opposition to the president and his party is fierce and relentless in large sections of the Midwest — in coal country in southeast Ohio, in rural parts of northeast Wisconsin.
Just off Interstate 43, close to Sheboygan, an anti-Obama billboard delivers a simple message: "We the people built this country, don't let Obama destroy it."
The Senate race in the state pits Tommy vs. Tammy — the former governor who left office in 2001 to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services in President George W. Bush's administration and the seven-term liberal congresswoman who is popular in the state capital of Madison and surrounding counties of her southern district.
In 2010, a watershed year for Republicans with Walker's triumph and Ron Johnson's ousting of Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, Baldwin collected 191,164 votes, the second most of any House Democratic candidate nationwide. Washington state Rep. Jim McDermott was first.
Thompson is considered an institution in Wisconsin, but a rough, costly four-way Republican primary forced him to spend weeks regrouping and raising money late this summer while Baldwin and outside Democratic groups pummeled him in television ads that made him look older than his 70 years.
"Tommy Thompson should be the decided favorite," said Bob Ziegelbauer, a Democrat-turned-independent and Manitowoc County executive. "He's been slow to awaken the old Tommy. There's been a little rust on the campaign machine. When he does wake up, he should be fine."
In the final weeks to the election, Thompson has been appealing to voters by insisting he is the one politician in the state who needs no introduction.
"You all know me as Tommy," Thompson recently told some two dozen workers at Grover Corp., a Milwaukee company that manufactures piston rings for compressors and other non-automatic equipment. "Ninety percent of the people in Wisconsin know me just as Tommy. They know what I did as governor."
He focuses on the pragmatic accomplishments of his roughly 14 years in office but makes a point of bemoaning government spending, a critical concern of tea partyers and an issue that contemporary Republicans can't afford to ignore.
Thompson jokes that the numerous highways built when he was governor have reduced Wisconsin seasons to two — winter and highway construction. At a candidate debate, he argues for his 15 percent flat tax plan, explaining that it's so simple the average Wisconsin taxpayer could calculate it during halftime of a Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears game.
Yet the soft-spoken Baldwin is running even, casting herself as more attuned to the needs of the middle class than Thompson, who ran for president in 2008 and has been a partner with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Akin Gump.
"It all gets down to whose side are you on, the people or the powerful," the 50-year-old Baldwin said at a debate in Wausau. If elected to the seat now held by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl, Baldwin would be the first openly gay member of the Senate.
In Sheboygan, a county Obama narrowly lost in 2008 and Walker handily won in 2010, a number of voters are still uncertain.
"I always liked Tommy and what he did," said Kevin Swanson, one of the owners of Esell, an online auction service.
Swanson remain undecided however, determined to follow-up on the claims he saw in one campaign ad about Baldwin and her record on Israel. Fresh in his mind is his wife's experience as a county employee and Walker's push to end collective bargaining rights for most public workers, an issue now for the courts.