Obama makes fundraising plea for Feingold in Senate race

President Barack Obama injected himself into Wisconsin’s heated U.S. Senate race, sending out a fundraising plea for Democrat Russ Feingold in which he touted Feingold’s record voting against the Patriot Act and for health care reform.

In an email sent to Feingold’s supporters, Obama referred to him as a “legendary progressive” in the race against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.

Feingold served 18 years in the Senate before losing to Johnson in the 2010 race. Their rematch is one of the most closely watched Senate races this year, with Democrats hoping typically strong turnout in a presidential year will propel Feingold to victory.

Obama’s email referred to “Fighting” Bob La Follette and Sen. Gaylord Nelson, saying Feingold “embodies the proud tradition of Wisconsin progressives.” Obama noted Feingold cast the only vote against the Patriot Act, was one of the few who argued against the war in Iraq, “took an early and loud stance in support of marriage equality for gay Americans” and worked “side by side” with Obama on getting the health care overhaul law passed.

Johnson’s campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger said “It’s no surprise the liberal leaders of the dysfunction in Washington are pulling out all the stops for Senator Feingold – they need him to double down on their failed agenda.”

Reisinger said he was happy for the president to “highlight Feingold’s vote for Obamacare and weak record on national security.”

Obama’s email comes after the national super PAC For Our Future announced that Wisconsin would be one of five states where it would be spending money. Republicans have branded Feingold — an opponent of PACs — a hypocrite for benefiting from the spending.

Feingold last year proposed that Johnson agree to a pledge designed to keep third party money out of the race. Johnson refused to sign it, with Reisinger saying, “How do you make a deal with someone who has broken his word?”

Feingold disavowed super PAC spending in his 2010 race, stopping the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from spending money on television ads to support him and refusing to back creation of a group to help his campaign.

And in 2012 Feingold lashed out at Obama for embracing outside money in his re-election campaign, calling it a “dumb approach” that would lead to scandal.

However, outside groups have already spent millions on Feingold’s rematch with Johnson, with more expected to come.

Outside groups on Johnson’s behalf, most notably Americans for Prosperity which is funded by billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch, have outspent Feingold’s campaign about $5 million to $1 million so far this year. Most of the third-party spending benefiting Feingold so far, about $2 million from six liberal groups, came in 2015.

For Our Future is backed by billionaire environmentalist and Democratic activist and donor Tom Steyer, his NextGen Climate organization, and four labor groups. They are the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.