Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Sen. Russ Feingold Is Trailing in Wisconsin Polls

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Sen. Russ Feingold Is Trailing in Wisconsin Polls

Article excerpt

Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin has been easily elected to the Senate three times before. But the political climate this year has made this race much closer.

By all accounts, Russ Feingold should not be in the political fight of his life this campaign season.

The Democratic senator from Wisconsin, whose name is synonymous with campaign finance reform, has been easily elected three times before. He is one of a handful of senators who can say they voted against invading Iraq, and he was the only senator who voted against the Patriot Act in 2001 - positions that have traditionally worked well in his home state, which favors independence outside Washington.

Yet this campaign is turning into the most difficult of his career. Like many Democrats, he is facing an opponent who was unknown to most voters before this summer but is now outpacing him in the polls. According to Pollster.com, which aggregates the leading national and local polls, Ron Johnson (R) is leading Senator Feingold, 50.8 percent to 44.6 percent.

The turn of events fits in with the larger issues confronting Democratic candidates, says Charles Franklin, a co-founder of Pollster.com who teaches political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Mr. Johnson's unexpected ascendancy in the polls "has a lot more to do with national revulsion against Democrats" this political season, especially when it comes to issues such as fiscal responsibility, Mr. Franklin says.

Feingold, in fact, squared off against a similar candidate during the 2004 election cycle, Franklin says (although that race wasn't close). The earlier opponent, Tim Michels, had private-sector credentials and a platform that are nearly "identical" to Johnson's, Franklin says. Johnson is an Oshkosh businessman who has spent more than $4 million of his own money in the campaign.

What makes the 2010 race different is the political climate. "It seems to me that there's very little new in the set of issues that Johnson brings to the table, but the state is far more receptive to the argument that businessmen are best in creating jobs than big government," says Franklin. …

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