Wisconsin Senate candidate Eric Hovde (R) thinks Rep. Tammy Baldwin's (D-Wis.) philosophy stems from communism.
"I fundamentally disagree with Tammy on almost everything. She has a more liberal voting record than almost anybody in Congress," he told The Hill in a recent interview. "Her philosophy has its roots in Marxism, communism, socialism, extreme liberalism — she calls it progressivism — versus mine, which is rooted in free-market conservatism."
Baldwin's campaign pushed back against his remarks.
Hovde, a wealthy real estate developer and former CNBC contributor who recently moved back to Wisconsin from the Washington, D.C., suburbs, has already spent $3 million on his race, and promised to continue to make a "meaningful investment" towards his campaign.
That money has helped him to elbow his way into a crowded race against well-known former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R), former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-Wis.) and Wisconsin state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R). A recent poll from Marquette University showed Thompson with 34 percent support, followed by Neumann at 16, Hovde at 14 and Fitzgerald at 10 — movement for the late-entering candidate.
While Thompson remains the favorite, the big-spending, fiscally conservative Club for Growth has promised to make him a top target — and if they badly damage him and Neumann doesn't gain traction, Hovde could benefit from their attacks.
Hovde repeatedly expressed exasperation with other politicians and the media during the interview, showing an impatience with the electoral process and irritation with both parties — as well as with how his campaign has been covered in the press. His tone stayed combative as he discussed the economic crisis, the United States's budget problems and other candidates, and seemed stunned that others didn't seem as concerned about the issues that motivated him, especially the national debt.
"I frankly keep being amazed by the lack of maturity and lack of intelligence of those in the political world," he said, ripping politicians and the media.
He came under fire this week for criticizing what he saw as the media's obsession with "sob stories" about people who "couldn't get their food stamps" rather than focusing on the high rate of deficit spending of the U.S. government that will "devastate everybody."
Hovde defended his remarks and blasted Arianna Huffington, the liberal head of the Huffington Post, which first reported on the comments.
"My whole point was if we don't get focused on the deficit we destroy our middle class, our upper middle class, but the ones that get destroyed the worst are the poor. I was saying we need to stop focusing on food stamp and sob stories, and by the way there are massive amounts of foodstamp frauds, but the point is we’d better star talking about the big issues, the economy and preserve things for everyone," he said, his voice rising with frustration and anger. "You’re talking about a guy who’s had a [charity] foundation for 14-plus years, who has built homeless shelters around the globe, founded food pantries, meals on wheels. ... Anyone who wants to criticize me for being insensitive to the poor, I’ll put my record up against any Arianna Huffingtons'."
Hovde's campaign released on Wednesday a challenge to debate Huffington on who'd done more for charitable causes. He's given more than $10 million to charitable causes in recent years.
"I pray and hope they bring this up because it’ll drag them into a discussion I’d love to have. I don’t go out and talk about my charity because as a person of faith I don’t think I need to go out and promote that stuff. But if they want to bring it up, let’s get into a discussion about a big part of my life. I'm not going to sit back and let these political hacks make these attacks on me," he said. "You're going to have a hard time finding someone out there who’s done as much for those who are economically disadvantaged as I have."
While Hovde's harshest words were for Baldwin, and he said he personally liked his Republican opponents, Hovde didn't pull any punches on their records, describing Thompson as a "career politician" and "corporate lobbyist."
"He doesn't have the knowledge or expertise of our economic system, and I don’t know he’s a true believer in free enterprise, which I strongly believe in," he said. "None of these guys could really tell you what’s going on in the global capital market, talk about how the Fed works and how it’s distorting our capital system, what’s happening in Europe."
Hovde said Neumann was closer to him ideologically but called him a "career candidate" who "isn't viable" in the general election, and brushed off Fitzgerald, who has struggled mightily with fundraising, as "not a factor" in the race.
He said he has always been a proud conservative, even while attending University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he said he thought his outspoken views might have gotten him into trouble, but "I’m 6 foot three, weigh 225 and have been lifting and taking martial arts my whole life."
He said that despite living the last 25 years in Washington, D.C., he'd always kept one foot in Wisconsin — he never gave up his Wisconsin Badgers football season tickets and kept working on his family business back in the state — and that if not for his step-daughter, would have moved back long ago.
"Her father’s in D.C. and would never stand for us moving," he said.
Hovde said he was less than excited about being a senator — "I know a few senators and I don't think their lifestyle is very good" — but that he felt compelled to run because after talking to a number of them ahead of and during the 2008 economic meltdown "I was amazed at their lack of economic competency."
He was about as kind to other Republicans, saying he "fundamentally disagreed" with how former President George W. Bush increased government spending and handled the economy and "couldn't stand" how former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) ran the House, blasting them for "the earmarking, the massive spending, the corruption with Abramoff."
The candidate slammed both parties for overspending, and said he wanted to see tax breaks for the oil-and-gas industry repealed along with an end to tax credits for green-energy companies — and a lower corporate tax rate paired with closing loopholes that allowed big businesses to avoid paying taxes while squeezing smaller businesses.
UPDATED: Hovde's campaign took issue with the story's headline.
"It is a misleading headline," said a Hovde spokesman. "Eric never called her a Communist. He was characterizing her liberal philosophy and vision which, if you look at her dismal record in Congress, is pretty accurate."
This story was originally published at 2:55 p.m. and has since been updated.