Primary Coverage

Feingold appeals to voters on both sides

By - Sep 13th, 2010 04:00 am
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John Smart
Feingold from behind

Russ Feingold seems to relish being considered the underdog.  In this year’s race, he is genuinely excited to tell voters that he is being outspent three-to-one by Ron Johnson, the multi-millionaire Republican who is his likely opponent in the November general election.

Oh yes, Dave Westlake is also running in the Republican primary, but Johnson says that he can afford a serious run against Feingold. Rumor has it  that there is also a third candidate running for the Republican nomination, but nobody knows who that is (PW note: It’s Stephen Finn).

Senator Feingold famously came from behind in his initial senate bid in 1992. First, he faced off against two other millionaires in the Democratic primary, Joe Checota and Jim Moody, who bumped each other off allowing Feingold to charge through the middle and win the nomination.

Then he ran against incumbent Republican Senator Bob Kasten, using what many considered a dangerous campaign technique.  He said that he’d visit every county in the state every year, fight for campaign finance reform and a national health plan, and that he’d vote to raise taxes to pay for it.  But his quirky demeanor carried the day — as it has ever since.

Nobody can accuse Feingold of being one of the rich guys.  He qualifies as a pauper compared to his colleagues in that august body. Johnson has taken to calling Feingold “a typical Washington politician,” which would surprise a lot of folks in the nation’s capital!

In an interview a few months back, responding to a question about the possibility of drilling for oil under Lake Michigan,  Johnson said that we are an oil-based economy, and, “We have to get the oil where it is…” – a remark I’m sure he has come to regret.  Feingold and Westlake both pounced on that one!

Johnson also criticized the Obama administration for picking on BP after their ghastly oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by forcing them to set up that trust fund for it’s victims.  And then the news came out that he owns between $116,000 and $315,000 in BP stock.

So, all things considered, I suspect that Feingold will once again come from behind and pull off an “upset victory!”  And I am very pleased that he will.

Patti Wenzel
Oh my God — I’m agreeing with John!

Well, John obviously has his pom-poms out for Russ Feingold, so I’ll weigh in on what I think will be the reality on Nov. 2.

Johnson has little to no competition from Westlake and his personal wealth has allowed him to pound Feingold all summer.

Johnson is right in line with the Wisconsin and national GOP and while there is no such thing as a Tea Party endorsement (since there is no official Tea Party), many people who align themselves with Tea Party ideals – limited government, slashed spending and more tax cuts — are in Johnson’s camp.

And Feingold is vulnerable for the first time since he went to Washington. He is no longer the underdog outsider, like he was when he took on Democrats Moody and Checota in the 1992 primary to face incumbent Senator Kasten. He is no longer writing his political promises on his garage door or seeking the endorsement of Elvis impersonators.

Feingold has represented Wisconsin for 18 years. His name is attached to legislation that created a cosmic shift in how political campaigns are financed and he sits on two very powerful Senate committees – Budget and Judiciary.

But even with a “D” behind his name, Feingold has received broad support across the state and from voters of all parties. His style to stand up against his own party on spending (he has worked to reduce spending in certain areas and returned Senatorial pay raises during his terms), gun rights (he is supportive), Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (Feingold, Tom Harkin-Iowa and Robert Bryd-WV were the only Democrat no votes) and to allow the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton to move forward  (he was the only Democrat on that one) have made him a darling to those who like independent thinkers.

His willingness to vote against fear and patriotic paranoia when presented with the USA PATRIOT Act cemented that image of independence.

But lately, his independent, mavericky (thanks Sarah Palin) credentials have been tested. Over 17 years, Feingold touted his annual listening sessions to the 72 counties in the state. I attended many of those meetings and Feingold would sit and genuinely listen to pleas from voters concerning gun issues, rural dental needs and environmental issues. But over the course of 2009, I witnessed Feingold’s sessions turn from listening to lecturing, touting the party line on Health Care Reform at his county meetings.

Instead of listening to the concerns of voters on both sides (conservatives against the plan, liberals urging him to fight for universal coverage) Feingold argued that  the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was the best thing available and that he would swallow hard and vote for it. His independent streak went out the window in the minds of many voters and he has had to work hard to win those votes back.

In the long run, though, I think Feingold’s track record of independence is appealing even to partisan voters in Wisconsin, where the Progressives and Socialists actually had staying power. And while Johnson has non-incumbency in his favor, I predict Feingold will buck the off-year election curse and easily win.

I suggest Johnson regroup and consider taking on our invisible Senator Herb Kohl in 2012.

Categories: Commentary, Politics

0 thoughts on “Primary Coverage: Feingold appeals to voters on both sides”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Interesting, Patti. Oh, I disagree with your take on health care reform, and on Russ lecturing instead of listening, but, by and large, you’re on target. Add to that Russ’s remarkable on-the-ground campaign of eager young people, doing battle with Johnson’s big money standard issue campaign, and I agree that once again it’s Feingold in the lead!

  2. Anonymous says:

    “Oh my God — I’m agreeing with John!”

    I love this article so much.


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