Democrat Russ Feingold’s bid to win back the cherished Senate seat he lost six years ago to Republican Ron Johnson might be 2016’s marquee rematch.
The Wisconsin race, which is drawing big money from outside the state, is one of about a half-dozen that could determine which party controls the Senate come January.
Feingold, after losing during an election year rife with anti-establishment furor, is working hard to get his job back – and for now, has the edge in the polls.
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee political analyst Mordecai Lee said the circumstances are different than in 2010, a midterm election where turnout was lower and the electorate “skews” Republican.
“Now the advantage has turned topsy-turvy because now we're talking about a presidential election, high-turnout election -- you get those once-every-four-years Democratic voters,” Lee said. “So the advantage Ron Johnson had in 2010 is the advantage Russ Feingold has in 2016.”
The election has captured so much interest that nearly $7 million is pouring into the Badger State from outside groups hoping to make an impact. About $4 million of that is earmarked against Feingold.
Johnson, who said he spent 37 years in manufacturing before entering the political arena, still touts himself as the outsider in this race.
“I actually helped start a business here in Wisconsin that created good-paying jobs. I know how a business is run. I know what we need to grow our economy,” he said “Senator Feingold is the ultimate insider. A 34-year career politician.”
Feingold said he’s not the one who should be worrying about his record in the Senate.
“I don't have to hide my identity. I am proud that I served in the U.S. Senate,” Feingold said. “But in this case, he's the senator and when you are the senator and you talk about national security and you don't show up for 50 or 60 percent of relevant hearings that have to do with homeland security, that’s a problem.”
It’s hard to say how much influence the presidential candidates will have on the state’s Senate race. Wisconsin voters did not support either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the presidential primaries. Both Feingold and Johnson claim they would work well with whoever wins the nation’s top job.
The latest polls show Feingold with a comfortable lead over Johnson. RealClearPolitics, which averages results from several polls, currently shows Feingold up nearly 10 points.
And, in what’s being billed as a show of confidence that Feingold will win the seat back, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee decided to cancel some plans for a major advertising blitz in Wisconsin.
Despite the polls, Lee thinks the race could be tighter than it seems. “I think it's a real race. I think it's a competitive race,” he said. “I think it’s anybody's to win or lose.”