Tommy Thompson stumps before the Milwaukee Press Club.

As he announced on November 30 of last year, Tommy Thompson is back to take a run at Wisconsin’s junior senator seat in a bid to replace retiring Sen. Herb Kohl.

Thompson, former Wisconsin governor and Health and Human Services Secretary under President George W. Bush, is still full of his trademark bravado, self-confidence and bluster. He glad-handed practically every attendee at the Milwaukee Press Club‘s Newsmaker Series Monday afternoon, remembering names and sharing anecdotes with with every person he met. Over the next eight weeks, the Press Club will feature other Senate candidates, including Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D), State Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) and formerRep. Mark Neumann.

Thompson fell easily back into his political rhythm, flawlessly reviewing his accomplishments from his 14 years as governor. It was as if the 12 years since his last successful campaign had never happened.

Prior to his appearance, the Wisconsin Democratic Party released a statement questioning Thompson’s legal and lobbying firm’s involvement with the Keystone Pipeline. WisDems questioned why Thompson would not disclose his work with the firm.

Thompson said he had resigned his position with Akin Gump, and that his role at the firm was as a consultant focusing on medical issues and businesses. He added he was planning to resign from the various other for-profit boards he serves on, but didn’t give a date. He said he had “zero involvement” in any lobbying that occurred within the firm.

“I have never been a lobbyist,” Thompson said. “I’m a consultant. A lobbyist is paid to convince members of Congress on pending laws. A consultant can be anybody that gives advice. I don’t hand money to anybody.”

Unfortunately, an old friend in the audience who Thompson called out as an example of a fellow consultant wouldn’t play along and described himself as a lobbyist.

Thompson came right back, fielding questions about Obamacare and the idea that the President said he supported the health plan. ”I supported health care reform,” he said. “But I do not support Obamacare.”

Ignoring the other two announced GOP candidates in the primary and focusing past the Democratic heir-apparent, Tammy Baldwin, Thompson gave four reasons he’s running.

  1. The nation needs to change direction and needs a Republican president.
  2. For a Republican agenda to be passed, control of the Senate needs to flip.
  3. The national debt needs to be reduced.
  4. The national deficit needs to be reduced.

“And I’m the only candidate who has ever been endorsed by Ronald Reagan,” he quipped, evoking a 1986 endorsement of his gubernatorial aspirations by the then-President, solidifying his Republican and conservative bona fides.

He pointed to his experience as the U.S. Secretary of HHS and his ability to run and understand the largest department in the federal government as his qualification for the Senate seat.

“I will accomplish cutting the deficit because I ran that department. I will end Obamacare” he said. He also cited the need for jobs and his belief that the path to lower unemployment would be through looser regulations, lower corporate taxes and the building of the Keystone Pipeline “to end energy dependence.”

He asked, iterating his campaign slogan: “Who better than me to be the candidate?”

Thompson added that his role as Secretary of HHS makes him uniquely qualified to deal with the Medicare issue. Thompson supports the theory of Congressman Paul Ryan‘s (R-Janesville) Medicare plan, but claimed his version would be completely voluntary, allowing people to choose whether to stay on the current form of Medicare or do the voucher system at age 55.

Thompson also weighed in on Act 10, saying he supports the governor and won’t criticize the decisions of someone who succeeded him. He did add, however, that he would not seek right to work legislation, since he didn’t “see the need for any further deterioration of labor/management relations in Wisconsin.”

He added that he would have handled the high-speed train issue differently, opting to keep it going, but faster.

“I would have made it a high-speed train,” he said. “It’s not really a high speed train if it only goes 30 miles per hour overall.  I would have eliminated the stops.  I would have made it my train.”

A video of the Tommy Thompson Newsmakers appearance is available at WisconsinEye.