Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Why Russ Could Beat Rojo

As the polls suggest, Johnson hasn't really tried to connect with voters. That could be fatal.

By - May 27th, 2015 01:34 pm
Russ Feingold and Senator Ron Johnson.

Russ Feingold and Senator Ron Johnson.

Ron Johnson was the ideal candidate for 2010. At the height of the Great Recession voters were angry and looking to throw the bums out, and what better candidate than Johnson, the owner of an Oshkosh-based plastics manufacturing company who had absolutely no political experience. He could portray himself as the ultimate outsider and had no record the incumbent Senator Russ Feingold could attack. Johnson also exuded a forthright, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington persona, the regular guy, common-sense alternative to Rhodes scholar Feingold. Johnson was good looking, well-spoken, taller than Feingold (always an advantage) and his quiet eyes projected a genuineness, a sense that he really cared about these issues.

Yet Johnson has now served more than four years, and has somehow squandered those advantages. The regular guy who seemed to be on the voters’ side has morphed into the state’s lecturer-in-chief, whose default mode is to suggest the voters need to bone up a little more on the issues. “I realize a lot of people don’t pay attention,” he sort of complained to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Craig Gilbert.

They also can’t see the issues as objectively as Rojo can. “I think the voters of Wisconsin … if they take a look at things objectively, will start realizing that big government… isn’t working so good,” he told Gilbert, and then repeated his message later: “Again, if they just look at things objectively, decades of liberal policies… that Sen. Feingold supports, they haven’t worked.”

Feingold has already jumped all over Johnson’s style, telling Gilbert the senator interacts with constituents by “lecturing” rather than “listening.” Feingold each year did listening sessions in all 72 counties in the state, or 432 sessions per term; it was a key part of his approach, and the wonky policy guy made a point of listening, not expounding, to constituents. By contrast, he noted, Johnson “does a lecture, he does a PowerPoint about the deficit, which of course is an important issue, but he doesn’t open himself to hearing about the daily realities that Wisconsin middle-class families and workers face.”

Johnson was a CEO for years, and you get used to getting your way and getting results pretty quickly. American politics is, by constitutional design, maddeningly slow, and at its absolute worst in the U.S. Senate. If Johnson thought he and his fellow wave Republicans of 2010 would have a big impact on the budget, he soon learned differently. Republicans don’t want to cut the defense budget and are afraid of trimming most entitlements and that doesn’t leave much to cut. So a frustrated Johnson has decided he must explain to us, repeatedly, just how desperate things are. In the process, he’s become a power point preacher, the nagging elder that quickly bores voters of all ages.

That may help explain why Johnson has failed — miserably — to win over the majority of voters in Wisconsin. Not once has a poll found at least 50 percent approve of his performance. From the spring of 2011 through this spring, the St. Norbert poll measured support for Johnson on five occasions and the percent of respondents who approved of him averaged a dismal 38 percent and ranged as high as 43 percent. Johnson never got near to a majority of voters approving of him. Meanwhile, the percent of voters disapproving averaged 29 percent and ranged as low as 22 percent.

If anything, the results of the Marquette University Law School poll, which measured approval for Johnson nine times since his election, are even worse: on average, about 32 percent of respondents approved and 28 percent disapproved. (The two pollsters ask the question slightly differently.)

What’s perhaps most striking about the results is the high percentage of people with no opinion on a senator in office this long. Johnson is known to average voters, if at all, for questioning and getting dressed down by Hillary Clinton when grilling her about Benghazi, which was arguably a draw and, in any case, not a pocketbook issue for voters.

Meawhile, the MU poll twice measured support for Feingold, this spring and in the fall of 2014, and an average of 44 percent of respondents had a favorable impression and 29 percent had unfavorable impression. More than four years after booting him from office, far more voters feel they know Feingold, and far more have a favorable opinion of him, than for Johnson. That is very bad news for the incumbent.

Johnson ran against Feingold on Obamacare, and since this was before it was actually implemented, scare stories about it were easy to peddle. But now it has been implemented, has a constituency of supporters and facts on the ground that will make it far harder for Johnson to demonize. Similarly, Johnson ran in 2010 against the Obama stimulus plan before it had any impact, but the revived economy could make Feingold’s support of it look much wiser today.

Feingold has already indicated he will accuse Johnson of “always siding with those with the big cash (and) the special interests.” Unlike many Clintonite Democrats, Feingold has always opposed free trade agreements, arguing they export jobs and are “a raw deal for workers.” That has helped make him look like the friend of working class voters. Johnson is a business owner who supports more such agreements, and that could easily make him look uncaring.

Feingold was the lone senator who voted against the Patriot Act, and can now point to the result, the wholesale collection of data on Americans through their phones. Johnson continues to support this, saying its “information that we’re going to need to keep this nation safe.” Johnson’s stance on the issues, from the need to cutback government spending on things like entitlements to allowing worker “dislocations” caused by free trade to supporting NSA’s wholesale invasion of citizens’ privacy, is all about voters taking their medicine because it may be good for them in the long run — always a harder sell.

Johnson is going to hammer Feingold as a big-government Democrat and career politician, but that argument doesn’t work quite as neatly when you are now the representative of government and have a voting record, most of which involves some kind of government spending. Feingold, meanwhile, will portray Johnson as one of the many millionaire senators whose voting record shows he doesn’t care about the middle class. Such arguments will be easier to make because Johnson has failed to really connect to voters, leaving a blank page on which Feingold can write his own anti-Rojo narrative.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

59 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Why Russ Could Beat Rojo”

  1. MIster Hand says:

    Penultimate paragraphs: NSA, not NASA.

  2. PMD says:

    Why is Johnson even running for reelection? On May 16 he told the Journal Sentinel that he’s a winner even if he loses the election because he gets to go home, which he’ll gladly do because he misses home. Yes, I know, “career politicians” are the worst thing ever, but if he cares that little for the job, why even bother?

  3. Andy says:

    I can personally attest to Rojo being a “lecturer” instead of a “listener.”

    On a handful of occasions I contacted his office via email regarding various topics, imploring him to look at the data and reconsider his position on this issue or that.

    Every time and without exception, when a response finally did arrive weeks later, Johnson spent one or two sentences thanking me for contacting him, and two or three paragraphs detailing why I was wrong and should in fact reconsider my own position. IIRC, he included “hard data” in two of the correspondence, usually a link to an article from such organizations as the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, or Americans For Prosperity/Wisconsin Club for Growth.

    I don’t mind my elected representative disagreeing with me, and I don’t even mind them referencing notoriously biased sources to push their agenda. I just found it extraordinarily arrogant in that he didn’t even pretend like he would at least skim the sources I included, or attempt to consider or empathize with my perspective. He was very clearly intent on not just disagreeing with me but using his position as a particularly wealthy Senator as a type of bully pulpit with inherent authority, suggesting that by definition,his position was valid, while mine – coming from the mind of a working-class voter – was either wrong on the facts or void of any nuance, and therefore dismissable and in need of correcting.

  4. Bruce Murphy says:

    Thanks, Mister Hand, we fixed

  5. M says:

    Rojo also spent time and money on a frivolous lawsuit over his staff’s health insurance and how it would be handled, based on aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Hardly a populist issue. He seems to go in for grandstanding…

  6. Paul says:

    So it sounds like your conclusion is that if voters don’t think objectively about the issues Fiengold wins, but if voters actually think Johnson wins.

  7. PMD says:

    No one said that Paul. That’s your partisan interpretation.

  8. Paul says:

    In the fifth paragraph of the story you state that “Republicans don’t want to cut the defense budget and are afraid of trimming most entitlements ” then in the second last paragraph you say “Johnson’s stance on the issues, from the need to cut back government spending on things like entitlements “. Which is it?

  9. Bruce Murphy says:

    Paul, I think Johnson favors cutting back entitlements, as has the Paul Ryan road map, but the Republican leadership has been afraid to pass this, unless it’s part of deal Dems sign on to.

  10. PMD says:

    Who needs a good laugh? Johnson believes The Lego Movie is anti-business propaganda. Priceless.

  11. Paul says:

    I’m all for cutting entitlements, noting that things we paid in for during our working years are not entitlements.

  12. Paul says:

    PMD, telling young kids that business is bad is propaganda.

  13. Kyle says:

    Paul, have you seen the movie? The message isn’t that business is bad. Also, I’m a little disappointed that Johnson, who loves the statistics and articles that prove he’s right, had to cite an opinion piece to establish his case. (An opinion piece I’m too cheap to pay for, and too lazy to bypass the paywall.)

  14. Observer says:

    We have somewhere between 662 and 900 foreign soil military bases that I’ve been paying for all my working life. That entitlement has my OK for trimming. I’m thinking I will have a better chance of seeing that with a Feingold as my Senator. I’m tired of removing my belt and shoes while flying, again I think Russ might be my better choice. I think the corporate income tax used to account for 32% of our tax revenue while it is 9% now.

  15. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    I am waiting to hear what old Russ has to say about Obama care mess, as it worsens, plus his advocating of spending trillions on his dumb Global Warming theories.
    The global warming nuts wer pointing at all of these things like Lake Michigan disappearing, that never happened. Michigan up, Global Warming gone,ice age coming. Russ goes on SS.

  16. Paul says:

    Observer, so you want to raise the corporate tax by 23%, do you have any clue as to what that would do to prices?

  17. Observer says:

    The government has more than raised my income tax to make up for the corporate welfare addicts; I didn’t hear you complaining when the last President did that. CSD, you must have taken some of those State Fair drugs; now go pay your taxes.

  18. Andy says:

    Re: Wisconsin Conservative Digest’s global warming comments.

    I’m surprised you haven’t suffocated yet; that bubble you live in is astonishingly tiny! Usually folks like yourself pride themselves on simply rejecting scientific consensus while ironically parroting the classic preface “I’m not a scientist, but…” — in your case you’ve managed not only to disregard the collective life’s work of countless researchers the world over, but to go one further and misrepresent the predictions themselves.

    You use the internet regularly to communicate your worldview, meaning you’re adequately familiar with how to navigate it. Take the opportunity that past generations couldn’t even dream of; quit using the internet as a soapbox and try using it as a tool. Rather than seeking out sources that validate your position, spend even 15 or 20 minutes learning how greenhouse gases work (it’s why the planet Venus, while further away from the sun than Mercury, is much, much hotter; the hottest planet in our solar system). I know physics and chemistry can be daunting, even the introductory stuff – and science clearly wasn’t your strongest subject in school – but realizing you’re wrong about something shouldn’t frighten you or bring you shame. You shouldn’t run from it. Realizing you’re wrong is called learning and allowing oneself to learn something new is one of the most liberating things one can give, to themself and their community.

    For the sake of future generations, force your feelings and opinions to conform to the evidence of reality, not the other way around. If you remain uninspired, if you’re nevertheless convinced that you’re already right about global warming, I’d encourage you to submit your research, along with any and all evidence, statistics, and /or meta-analysis, to the peer-review community. If you can actually disprove the findings of the climate science community, there very likely will be a Nobel Prize in your future, and every science textbook henceforth will contain your discovery. It’s a worthwhile legacy to work toward, and one with much more lasting value than just being some anonymous naysayer. If you’re right, prove it. You’d be doing the world a favor, especially the climate-skeptic community, who have been relegated to the level of flat-earthers and young-earth creationists.

    And I’m no hypocrite; I’d love to find out that I’m wrong about this, especially because I find no pleasure in the thought of handing future generations a planet undergoing a runaway greenhouse effect, with all the social, financial and ecological challenges that come with such a scenario.

  19. tim haering says:

    Fair analysis, Bruce. If the race stays like this, my intuition says votes will turn on Feingold the way they turned on Thompson – as a has-been best left to political retirement. Ronjon may be vulnerable to a primary over letting Hillary off the hook over Benghazi. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one screaming a response to “What, at this point, does it matter?” while Johnson sat silent. But he’s a major committee chair now, something Feingold never achieved. And Feingold’s single shining accomplishment – McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 – lost so many court challenges, including the left’s reviled Citizens United. Feingold Rhodes-Scholared himself into champion of the very thing he fought to stop – unlimited corporate money in politics. I don’t think we fare poorly with either gent – both are soooo much better than Baldwin – but I see Johnson returning to his gavel, though I can’t argue too hard about any of your analysis of his negatives. Voters are again getting a rotten choice between a has-been and an is-not.

  20. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Andy, If you a re not going to say anyth
    ing, please do not write so much.

  21. PMD says:

    Paul probably hasn’t seen the movie. Most people who say it’s anti-business haven’t seen it. How in the world is a movie made to sell toys, made by a massive corporation, anti-business Paul? Do tell.

  22. PMD says:

    Did global warming advocates really claim that Lake Michigan would completely disappear by 2015?

  23. Paul says:

    PMD, If an animated movie came out and the evil nasty villains were portrayed by rats, called DemoRats and their names were Hillary and Barack, would you say it has no political spin. The usage of terms in the Lego movie plants ideas in small minds, of course they don’t understand they are supporting a business by wanting the toys, but the evil business seed is planted.

  24. PMD says:

    I haven’t seen it recently but I don’t think the villains in The Lego Movie are called Republiclowns and named Bush and Reagan.

    This is so surreal. I can’t believe people really believe this movie (100 minutes of product placement, as Vox notes), produced & distributed by Warner Bros. (a division of Time Warner, 2013 revenues = $29 Billion), is anti-business.

  25. Observer says:

    So Paul, the question was “Did you see the movie”? It’s a simple yes or no question. Did you believe that the Teletubby Tinky Winky was gay? Do you ever have original thoughts or do you always parrot someone else? I will apologize if you saw Legos and can point out the parts that had you questioning your belief that business is always right.

  26. John says:


    I personally thought your post was great, but wasted. I went down that road with WCD a few times, albeit far less effectively written, and it doesn’t work.

    You have to realize you are dealing with a simpleton. A simpleton would respond to your post in a manner that suggests they lack or have lost the cognitive faculties that provide reading comprehension.

    I would imagine WCD watched Space Race in the 60s and 70s with awe just like everyone else, but didn’t sit there and replace what he was seeing on the TV with skepticism based on his non-background in physics and chemistry. For some reason, climate change seems to be the one area where conservative folks like him want to completely disregard scientific consensus, as if the scientific process were somehow different.

    I think it really comes down to their black/white view of the world. Simpleton’s provide simple solutions to problems when nothing in the 21st century is that easy anymore. Global Warming is the greatest threat to humanity we have ever faced, and when forced to think about the consequences and the changes in lifestyle it presents, it’s easier to pull an ostrich and stick your head in the sand.

  27. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    John do nto drink the KoolAid about global Warming. I give specific reason it is turkey ljke Lake Michigan back up and the fast that all the computer programs, predictions have all been wrong the last 20 years.
    My dad told me, when speaking about Joe McCarthy, that people tell lies so big that they cannot possible be disproved. That is Global Warming. The facts are disproving them. None of their projections have been right, from Hurricanes, to temps, to lake Michigan etc. Ice pak bigger than ever.

  28. AG says:

    Can Feingold beat Ron Johnson? The answer is simple… the Lego movie is indeed anti-corporation. The villain’s name is literally “Lord Corporation.”

    But I love the “Everything is Awesome” tune. I hum it to myself throughout most of the work day. Regularly.

  29. PMD says:

    AG says: The villain’s name is literally “Lord Corporation.”

    Might we be taking the movie a little too seriously? Or are you joking? I hope you’re joking.

  30. Ag says:

    I don’t understand how you can’t take that movie seriously. Have you not seen the portrayal of the everyday worker in that movie? As if it’s the worst thing in the world to live a life where you go to work, provide for your family, and not do anything outrageously crazy.

    Have you read the book “Not Cool” by Greg Gutfeld? Absolutely terrible book… but he makes a point that people who’s main goal in life is to follow the stereotypical “American Dream” are looked down upon in today’s society. I think this movie portrays exactly that. As if you’re a bad person for getting up every morning and going to work and not looking to change the entire world but merely provide for your own family and if you’re lucky, support your community.

    The Lego corporation doesn’t count as an evil corporation, they’re like Google and Facebook… somehow they don’t count.

    I’m so glad we’re talking about this… I don’t follow politics much, or most of what is happening in our society today… so I can’t comment on Feingold/Rojo. However, espousing on the detrimental effects this movie has on our children is something I can really get passionate about.

  31. Paul says:

    PMD, you do know how to read, I said “IF” a movie was made like that. And like I said in my comment above, small minds wouldn’t understand that they are being brainwashed.

  32. PMD says:

    Oh they know Paul. Give small minds more credit. After watching The Lego Movie, my 7-year-old immediately stated that he hates capitalism and all people who work for a corporation are evil. I then smiled proudly and handed him my copy of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.

  33. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    PMD and the other white, liberal, male, racists are the reason that the companies go to Waukesha and other places with their jobs, leaving the nutty Leftists like Barrett, Baumann, Flynn, Gimbel, Taylor, etc with empty hands. I love to watch the areas like Ill. Venezuela, Calif. that use that philosophy. Too bad Obama is screwing USA with it.

  34. PMD says:

    So true WCD. I can’t tell you how many companies have moved from Milwaukee to Waukesha because of me.

  35. AG says:

    Ha! PMD you sucker. I’m only a white male who lives in Milwaukee. I’m neither a liberal nor racist. I’m off the hook! Neener Neener Neener!

  36. PMD says:

    Drat! Foiled yet again by AG! Back to my communist lair to figure out how I can get more businesses to move from Milwaukee to Waukesha (or maybe West Bend).

  37. Skeptic says:

    WisConDigest: Thanks for taking your own advice and saying nothing in so few words.

  38. Paul says:

    PMD, thanks for proving my point on those with small minds

  39. PMD says:

    Yes I have the small mind. Not the man arguing that The Lego Movie is an anti-business screed and an attempt to brainwash small children into hating capitalism.

  40. Paul says:

    PMD, I was talking about the seven year old child.

  41. Paul says:

    Observer, yes I’ve seen the movie, and where have I said that business is always right.

  42. Observer says:

    Oh, so business is not always right. Well then we agree on something, Paul. I didn’t watch the movie nor do I ever expect to. This synopsis is enough Lego for me.

  43. Paul says:

    Observer, the only thing we agree upon is that once again you are making comments on something that you know nothing about.

  44. Observer says:

    Alas I’ll never see the virulent anti-business hatred expressed in the vicious Legos propaganda movie.

  45. Paul says:

    Observer, seeing that you haven’t seen the movie and never plan on seeing it, how did you form an opinion on it? You accused me of never having an original thought and parroting the ideas of others, seems like that is what you have done in this situation. Please explain

  46. Observer says:

    No sane man could believe a mainstream movie about Legos is a serious threat to capitalism. Did you watch Sicko? If yes, what did you think?

  47. Paul says:

    Observer, that isn’t an answer. Who’s thoughts were you using? PMDs? Your unions? Or just the usual liberal talking points? Never saw “Sicko”. See how easy it is to answer a question.

  48. Observer says:

    Paul, which words are giving you problems? I thought I kept my response fairly simple. I do not own any unions. I don’t consider myself a liberal so I don’t know what their usual talking points are. I saw that Lego was on pay TV which I get. I tried watching some but I found I couldn’t. If you get a chance to view “Sicko”, please do. It’s geared toward the adult mind.

  49. Paul says:

    Observer, once again a non-answer

  50. Tom D says:

    WCD (post 27), your claim that “Ice pak [sic] bigger than ever” (that the Antarctic sea ice has been at record levels the last few years) doesn’t disprove climate change at all.

    In fact, increased Antarctic sea ice is ENTIRELY consistent with global warming.

    First, understand that there are two distinctly different types of polar ice: land ice (fresh water) and sea ice (salt water).

    • Land ice forms from precipitation. It is fresh-water ice. (If you melt a chunk, you can drink it.) It is tens of thousands of years old. ALL polar land ice (northern and southern hemispheres) is melting and NONE of it is “bigger than ever”.

    • Sea ice forms when the ocean’s surface freezes. It forms each winter and (mostly) melts each summer. It is salt-water ice (if you melt a chunk, you cannot drink it) and is just a few months old (having formed since the previous southern summer). The area covered by northern sea ice is diminishing over time and is NOT “bigger than ever”.

    Only southern hemisphere sea ice is expanding, and while we don’t know precisely why, there are three theories:

    • Theory 1 is that the world is actually cooling but that doesn’t explain why the southern land ice is melting rapidly and why all the northern polar ice is also melting.

    • Theory 2 is that the winds near Antarctica have changed blowing sea ice north thereby exposing more open water which then freezes.

    • Theory 3 is that the surface of the Southern Ocean is becoming less salty and therefore freezes easier. It becomes less salty because each year about 70 billion tonnes (metric tons) of fresh water is drizzled into the ocean from the melting Antarctic land ice. To put this 70 billion tonne number in some perspective, Lake Michigan contains about 4,900 billion tonnes of water, and each year fresh water roughly equivalent to 1/70th of all of Lake Michigan ends up on the surface of the ocean around Antarctica. Fresh water is lighter than salt water and so it tends to remain on the surface where it freezes each winter. And fresher (less salty) water means more ice.

  51. Paul says:

    Tom D, Or the actual cause, the earth goes through cycles it has before man was ever here and will continue to do so

  52. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Have never read so much BS, that is hwy Lake Michigan has gone up after the last ten years the Global Warming nuts have claimed it was evaporating. Tell this idiocy to the Vikings. People tell such lies that are so big that they cannot be proved or disproved.

  53. John G. says:


    Do you believe all scientists are liars or merely the ones researching topics you find go against your worldview to be lairs?

  54. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    John, really dumb statement. Scientists are just like all other people, some lie, some are idiots, some are geniuses. Life shows us who is who. as they say about computers, garbage in, garbage out.

  55. PMD says:

    If The Lego Movie is seriously a threat to capitalism, there’s no need to worry. Considering its box office and the sequels and spin-offs coming and the sale of toys, it would seem it has not harmed capitalism in any way. Quite the contrary. As for grown ups who believe a movie made to sell toys is anti-capitalism, well, I can’t say the same about them.

  56. PMD says:

    Yeah but when it comes to global warming, there is consensus among scientists. It’s not like half believe it’s real and half don’t. We’re talking 97% or 98%. Also I love how WCD just keeps referring to Lake Michigan as proof that global warming isn’t real.

  57. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Yes, there is consensus amongst Let wing political scientists that global warming is real and everything they predicted in 1994 has never come true cause it is socialists giant lie to control people, not control the sun.

  58. tom D says:

    Paul D (post 51), please explain how any new “cycle” could cause the arctic to warm (both the arctic land and sea ice are diminishing) and cause southern “doughnut cooling” (wherein the seas around Antarctica are cooling while doughnut hole of Antarctica itself is warming).

    In most cases, the simplest explanation is true. Here the simplest explanation is that a massive inflow of fresh water is reducing the Southern Ocean’s surface salinity thereby making that part of the ocean freezable even at sightly higher temperatures.

  59. PMD says:

    A socialist lie to control people! Love it. WCD you are priceless.

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