Paradoxically, their broad range of agreements was apparent Wednesday to an audience assembled by a loose-knit organization called "Business for Wisconsin Jobs" even as the campaign turns negative as the four seek to differentiate themselves.
"We are running at lightning speed off a financial cliff," said Eric Hovde, a hedge fund manager, owner of community banks a political novice.
"This nation is on the brink of (financial) disaster," said Mark Neumann , a home builder and former congressman.
"I am worried about our country" because the national debt now exceeds its GDP, said Tommy Thompson, former four-term governor and Bush cabinet secretary.
Entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security can be projected "to take all the federal dollars," said Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.
All four portrayed themselves as deficit hawks
Another common denominator was the repeal of Obamacare, viewed by Republicans all as an unacceptable tax add-on and a winning issue. As with Mitt Romney, their repair proposals were non-specific.
They all agreed that more deregulation is in order. Hovde takes the hardest line on reforms for Wall Street and the financial concoctions the big bankers have brought to the market. He objects to the tax breaks and bailouts for big business and big banks at the expense of small business and community banks. He is conversant with that world.
Thompson's distinction is two-fold. He knows his way around state and local government from long experience. And he has a track record of innovation on major issue reform and school choice.
Neumann plays up his role as an entrepreneur and is "insulted" by President Obama's observation that business success is more a collective result than an individual effort.
Fitzgerald is a long shot at this point, according to recent polls, but reminded the audience that it takes his kind of political courage to change the status quo. He also brandished his social conservative accomplishments in the passage of a concealed carry gun law, voter ID and the Castle Doctrine.
And he advised them not to count out "a young Irishman" in what he predicted will be a low-turnout primary Aug. 14. He could benefit if the other three beat each other up with negative ads.
In the big picture, all four candidates are squarely on the conservative side of the ledger, especially in comparison to Tammy Baldwin, the very liberal candidate from Dane County.
So, don't pay too much attention to the negative ads that have hit the air waves in the last week. They are largely distortions of minor pieces of the other guys' records in an attempt to one-up each other on their conservative credentials.
John Torinus is chairman of Serigraph Inc. in West Bend. He is involved with several business and civic organizations and is the author of "The Company That Solved Health Care." His blog appears regularly at www.johntorinus.com and is republished with his permission by BizTimes.