During the TEA Party surge in 2010, incumbent Democratic Senator Russ Feingold lost his Senate re-election to a newcomer to politics in Ron Johnson, a TEA Party favorite. Feingold lost 52-47. Feingold had been one of the more liberal members of the Democratic Party. He supported a number of actions that are at the forefront of the Democratic presidential primary debate. He opposed loosening banking regulations that Bill Clinton signed. He opposed the PATRIOT Act right after the September 11 attacks. He voted against authorizing military force in Iraq. He backed the Affordable Care Act. He also helped author a signature bill aimed to curb influence from outside lobbyists. In 2012, President Barack Obama won the state 53-46 despite Mitt Romney having Wisconsin local Paul Ryan as the Vice-President nomination. After watching Scott Walker survive a recall election and get re-elected in 2014, Feingold is banking on change in his favor for 2016.
The biggest attack from Senator Ron Johnson and conservatives so far is that Feingold is taking money from lobbyists and is thus hypocritical when he calls for reform for campaign finance. Per Politico, “He’s a complete hypocrite, a complete phony,” said Johnson, accusing Feingold of backtracking on his signature issue of campaign finance reform and plotting his path back to power. “I think citizens of Wisconsin will kind of have a problem with that level of hypocrisy, that level of phoniness.” RedState also finds this troubling and a way to attack Feingold. It’s an unfortunate consequence of our current electoral system that it’s near impossible to be elected without having any outside money come into your coffers. In order to be able to fix this, someone needs to be in power to be able to write the appropriate laws to have it fixed. But I’m not sure to what extent this level of attack will be successful.
The most recent poll, while being nearly nine months out from the election has Feingold leading Johnson by 12 points. In the early polls in 2010, Feingold only had about a 2-3 point lead which seemed to indicate a tough road ahead for him, especially as the election grew nearer, the rage toward the incumbent president and his party was bound to swell. With a lower turnout, the rage was able to win and unseat the incumbent. Presidential elections typically have a higher turnout rate than non-presidential elections. In Wisconsin, nearly 1 million more people voted in 2012 than they did in 2010. There was a decrease by nearly 500,000 voters from 2012 to 2014. The respective presidential candidates will be hoping that they are able to motivate their voters to turn up for down-ballot races including Wisconsin.
Senator Johnson believes that the turnout efforts will look more similar to 2010 and 2014 rather than 2012. The Milwaukee areas and talk-radio in Wisconsin played an important role in turning out people to vote to get Scott Walker elected. If it works in mid-term elections, why does it not work when the President is on the ballot? In terms of raw vote count, the Republican candidate received 1.12 million votes in 2010, 1.38 million votes in 2012, and 1.26 million votes in 2014. The Democratic candidate on the other hand won 1.02 million votes in 2010, 1.54 million votes in 2012, and 1.12 million votes in 2014. We can’t necessarily assume that votes are static year-to-year but the candidate who seems to benefit more from a higher turnout would be the Democratic candidate. While the Milwaukee machine and the talk-radio got people to vote, it was more of a war of attrition than anything else. Russ Feingold and Democrats are hoping for a higher turnout election to help re-capture the Senate. Let’s see if it can happen.