Tag Archives: rematch

Johnson, Feingold prepare for 1st debate in tightening race

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold are preparing to meet for the first of two televised debates in their tightening race.

They’ve been here before, six years ago, when Feingold was the more experienced, polished politician and Johnson a underdog newcomer. This year, Johnson enters Friday’s debate in Green Bay — just 25 days before the election — as the incumbent.

Even so, the underlying dynamic remains the same, said Republican strategist Mark Graul, who helped Johnson prepare in 2010 and again is lending his advice. What’s he telling Johnson?

“To be himself,” Graul said. “Ron Johnson is famously not a politician. He’s not the guy who’s going to go up there and deliver the canned one-liners and sound bites.”

Still, there’s more pressure on Johnson to shake up the race, given he’s trailing in polls, said Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster from Madison. Feingold — who’s been in politics for 34 years, 28 in elected office — should stay the course, not do anything too dramatic, and “keep on keepin’ on,” Maslin said.

The presidential race has cast a long shadow over the race, as Johnson has long been seen as vulnerable due to the state generally skewing Democratic in presidential years. But he was buoyed by a Marquette University Law School poll released this week showing the race as nearly even.

He’s also become increasingly aggressive on the campaign trail, sticking by Donald Trump in the wake of sexual assault allegations and challenging Feingold to defend backing of Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, Feingold has been careful not to break ties with the more liberal wing of the party, appearing at recent rallies with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Johnson expects Feingold to try to use his support for Trump against him in the debate, which he says he’ll counter by comparing Feingold’s “lack of having a record of accomplishment” with his own record in the Senate.

Johnson’s Senate office released a report this week highlighting his work as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, noting bills passed on issues like border and immigration security and reducing federal regulations.

Feingold’s signature legislation in the Senate was co-sponsoring with Republican Sen. John McCain a campaign finance overhaul. He also was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act, which was enacted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and opposed President Barack Obama’s decision to expand the war in Afghanistan.

He was a vocal supporter of Obama’s health care overhaul law.

Johnson has been preparing for Friday’s showdown by going over tapes from 2010’s three debates.

Feingold campaign spokesman Michael Tyler said he’s been “listening to the needs of middle-income and working families” in advance of the debate.

The two will take questions from a panel of journalists during the hour-long debate, which is sponsored by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association and will be broadcast widely across the state as well as on C-SPAN.

Feingold and Johnson’s second and only other planned debate is Tuesday in Milwaukee. That 90-minute debate will be hosted by WISN-TV and the Marquette University Law School and moderated by Mike Gousha, a veteran broadcast political journalist.

Feingold outraised Johnson by $1M during third quarter

Democrat Russ Feingold raised about $1 million more than Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson during the three-month fundraising period ending in September. That was the first full quarter that Feingold was an announced candidate in the expected rematch between the two candidates in November 2016.

Both Johnson and Feingold’s campaigns released spending summaries due to be filed with the Federal Elections Commission on Oct. 15.

Feingold raised $2.4 million between July and September, while Johnson brought in $1.4 million.

Feingold’s edge in fundraising this past quarter means both candidates now report having roughly the same amount of cash on hand. Johnson said he ended September with $3.5 million, while Feingold had $3.4 million.

Johnson defeated Feingold in 2010 in a mid-term wave election that brought tea party dominance to many state governments and to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Johnson’s spokesman says none of the money raised this past quarter came from the Senator’s own personal wealth. Johnson spent about $8.2 million of his own money to defeat Feingold in 2010.

Johnson is widely considered the most vulnerable U.S. senator facing re-election next year.

Ron Johnson faces a tough battle in rematch with Feingold

Almost from the day Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson defeated his Democratic predecessor Russ Feingold five years ago, both sides have anticipated a rematch.

Feingold, who passed up an open U.S. Senate seat and two chances to run against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, announced plans this spring to try to avenge his five-point loss to Johnson.

For months, while Feingold pondered his decision, Republicans attacked him, anticipating he would get in the race. The National Republican Senatorial Committee in February blasted Feingold’s support for the federal stimulus plan approved six years earlier, saying it was worth noting as he was “plotting his return to power.”

The attacks from Republicans picked up in March, when Feingold stepped down from his position with the U.S. Department of State as an envoy to Africa and began traveling around Wisconsin to talk with voters.

Republicans have tried to paint Feingold as a Washington insider with tenuous ties to his home state, pointing to his recently completed teaching job at Stanford University.

“The voters of Wisconsin terminated Russ Feingold in 2010, but he’s back,” Johnson told reporters on May 15.

Feingold’s campaign manager Tom Russell in a statement said voters were looking for an “independent-minded” candidate like Feingold.

“Right now they have a senator that puts partisan ideology and the needs of billionaires and special interests ahead of Wisconsin,” Russell said.

The seat is a key target for Democrats looking to regain control of the Senate who see Feingold as their best chance to retake it. Republicans currently hold a 54–44 majority, with two independents who caucus with Democrats.

Democrats see hope for Feingold, because he’ll appear on the ballot in a presidential year when Democratic voters in Wisconsin historically far outnumber Republicans. A Republican presidential candidate hasn’t carried Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984 — when Feingold was a 31-year-old freshman state senator.

Johnson’s win over Feingold was part of the tea party wave in 2010 that also put Republicans in control of both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature. Walker also won election as governor for the first time.

In 2014, when President Barack Obama carried Wisconsin for a second time, voters also elected liberal Democrat Tammy Baldwin for an open Senate seat, picking her over former Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican who had won four previous statewide elections.

Baldwin’s win — a huge victory for Democrats — was all the more telling given that it came just five months after Walker won a recall election. Feingold, whom many Democrats wanted to come out of retirement to take on Walker, passed on that race. Feingold also chose not to take on Walker last year when he ran, and won, re-election.

Another problem for Johnson is that recent polls show that even after six years in office, he remains a blank slate to many voters. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to a Marquette University Law School poll done in April had no opinion of Johnson. Only 26 percent had no opinion of Feingold, who was a state senator for 10 years before first being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992.

That same poll showed that Johnson’s favorable rating sat at 32 percent, compared with 47 percent for Feingold. And in a head-to-head matchup, the poll showed Feingold beating Johnson 54 percent to 38 percent.

Johnson called the poll “completely meaningless” given that it was done 18 months before the election.

Johnson said he expected the race to be close, but he was optimistic the state’s Republican Party would help him win using grassroots campaigning.

Despite the positive numbers, Feingold has the weight of history working against him. Only two senators since 1956 have successfully won their old seat back after losing a re-election attempt.