Five weeks ago, a Rasmussen poll showed that former Governor Tommy Thompson ahead of Senator Russ Feingold by five points — if, as Wisconsin blog Lakeshore Laments noted at the time, Thompson ends his Hamlet/Brett Favre act and gets into the race.  Perhaps Thompson heard the call.  According to Politico, Thompson has increased his networking among former political aides, apparently interested in bringing a team together for the 2010 elections:

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who served four terms as Wisconsin governor, is securing financial pledges and ramping up his outreach to longtime political aides in preparation for a possible campaign against Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.

Thompson has alerted his Washington-based law firm of his moves and is contacting key clients about the prospect of challenging Feingold, the most tangible signals yet that he’s seriously exploring a 2010 campaign.

“The governor has taken additional steps in the past week and will continue to do so over the next several weeks. If the meetings go well, you can expect to see an exploratory committee set up near the end of March,” former state commerce secretary and Thompson campaign manager Bill McCoshen told POLITICO.

Another longtime Thompson ally said the governor already has $200,000 in potential donations for a campaign that doesn’t yet exist.

Kevin at Lakeshore Laments’ frustration is not without reason.  Rumors of an electoral comeback have swirled around Thompson for quite a while without any moves coming from the supposed candidate himself.  Thompson has talked about a Senate bid for years, and recently stoked speculation that he was more interested in another term as Governor than anything else. The Brett Favre comparison is not without merit.

However, the Rasmussen poll appears to have pushed Thompson into something approaching action.  And well it should; the other GOP candidates trail Feingold despite his low level of popularity in Wisconsin.  Thompson gives Republicans an option for a credible candidate who can compete with Feingold’s stature in a statewide race.

One question will be whether Thompson is conservative enough to excite the Tea Party backers, but let’s face it: replacing the most liberal member of the Senate with anyone willing to at least oppose the thundering statism of the Democratic majority would be well worth it.  That doesn’t mean that a more conservative candidate shouldn’t compete against Thompson and win if possible.  However, having Thompson in the race at least gives Wisconsin Republicans the option of bringing out a heavy gun in the general election … assuming that Thompson actually gets in the race at all.

Update: Kevin has a new post up in reaction to this, and he’s right in saying that Thompson should go public soon if he plans to run.