Talk to Russ Feingold and you realize that he recalls how he lost his Senate seat 5 years ago – to first time candidate, Ron Johnson. The former senator from Wisconsin is attempting to win back his seat so that he can serve his constituents well. Even though he promised his daughter to take time off and reassess his options, he is back on the campaign trail. His supporters are delighted and erupt in joy when he announces that he is back.
The Feingold Game Plan
In the period away from public office, Russ Feingold has gotten remarried, written a book and also become a grandfather for the first time. Not only that he taught university level courses and served in Africa as an envoy. He is trying to emulate another senator’s feat of successfully winning his seat back – Rhode Island’s Peter Gerry lost his seat in 1934. Feingold hopes to capitalize on the angst that Wisconsin has experienced since Governor Scott Walker has stepped into office, with a conservative legislature. He is running on a platform of being the outsider, even though he spent 15+ years in the senate.
It remains to be seen whether the election cycle in 2016 will help Democrats get back into office in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. It will also be a test of resilience for first term senators like Ron Johnson – who was elected in 2010. He defeated Feingold by riding a wave started by the Tea Party. The upcoming election cycle is expected to be quite an uphill battle as moderate voters have the opportunity to tilt outcomes in important battle ground states.
Feingold has a few things going for him – fundraising ability, a recognizable name and also a list of accomplishments that he can brag about. Done right, it can help avoid the antipathy most voters have for career politicians. In an interview, he put a positive spin on his loss by saying that it was the political environment rather than being sent out of office by voters. The 2010 race was one in which voters turned their anger on incumbents and also unhappiness over Obamacare. He still stands behind his vote on the Affordable Care Act of 2010 because he believes in what it has to offer.
Ron Johnson has other ideas – he believes that the race will be decided on major issues like the health care law. He doesn’t mince any words when Feingold’s name is brought up at interviews. He attacked Feingold and accused him on backtracking on the issue of campaign finance reform. Johnson believes that the citizens of Wisconsin are smart enough to see through hypocrisy and phoniness and vote right. Some things that Feingold did while he was in offices was to go against then president Bill Clinton to loosen banking regulation laws. He was one of the few people to oppose the rescue package offered to Wall Street in 2008. He also opposed the war in Iraq and the lone dissenter against the Patriot Act which was enacted after 9/11.
While on the campaign trail, he lambasts Johnson on issues such as trade deals, student loans and other issues. The Democrats will have a tough time gaining majority in the Senate if they lose Wisconsin – even though Feingold seems to have a comfortable lead in the polls, it is a long time till the polls and anything is possible at this juncture. On the flip side, even though Johnson has been in office since 2011, his public image in Wisconsin is not that strong and Feingold has great approval ratings. Feingold has managed to raise a lot of money to run his campaign. Everyone is taking a wait and watch attitude – both Feingold and Johnson are in a dog fight for the same seat.