Sunday, August 25th, 2019

Here comes the mud


Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Sep 23, 2010; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

Here comes the mud

Now that Johnson is ahead, expect Feingold to go negative

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

Until last week, conventional wisdom had the race for Senate between the incumbent Russ Feingold and Oshkosh businessman Ron Johnson as being really close right to the end. Johnson appeared to be slightly ahead, but really the race was too close to see any advantage. The New York Times’ 538 Project still had the race as a likely Feingold win.

Then Johnson won the primary and for the first time addressed the larger public with his victory speech broadcast on the news. The speech was serviceable, more noteworthy for what it wasn’t. It was not a completely amateurish performance, probably convincing some of the independent voters that it’s OK to like Johnson despite what Feingold says.

The first poll afterward was the Rasmussen Poll, and it jolted everyone awake. The poll showed Johnson ahead by seven points, and he was now over the 50 percent line.

Even Rasmussen suggested caution in reading too much into the results, saying the poll numbers could be the result of a temporary postprimary bounce.

By the weekend, Feingold had found his answer for the bad poll. In an interview on “Upfront with Mike Gousha,” Feingold claimed his campaign actually had internal poll numbers showing him ahead.

The weekend was also when the Democrats found themselves trying to defend Feingold from the charge he lied when said he has been outspent in every election he has ran for senator. Using accounting tricks of the kind used to pass the national health care bill, the Democrats claimed that if you added up all the money spent in the Republican primary and counted it as money directed against Feingold’s candidacy in the 2004 election, that somehow counts. Normally, we expect adults to set a better example for children and not tell fibs like that.

Feingold’s spinning lasted until Monday afternoon when Markos Moulitsas of the leftwing Daily Kos website announced a new poll was coming out on Tuesday, and it was even worse for Feingold. Suddenly the claims of internal polls and a tight race sounded like Baghdad Bob claiming there the American Army was not advancing toward the Iraqi capital.

The poll conducted by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shows Feingold losing to Johnson 52 percent to 41 percent. As National Review’s Jim Geraghty said, “If Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold really does trail GOP challenger Ron Johnson by double digits, then it is a signal that we really are looking at a Republican tsunami that makes the wave of 1994 look like a ripple in a puddle.”

The poll is devastating for Feingold in so many respects. In Milwaukee, more people disapprove of Feingold’s job performance than approve. Milwaukee is where a Democrat needs to get 60 percent of the vote if he or she is going to win statewide.

Feingold is losing among every age category except the youngest voters. Those voters are also the least likely to turn out.

Moulitsas recognized the potential for trouble for the Democrats, announcing, “the Senate is back in play.”

That’s why the race has become so important. If the Republicans can take this Senate seat with Johnson, suddenly getting 10 seats in the Senate to win the majority doesn’t look impossible. President Barack Obama and Sen. Harry Reid need Feingold to win.

Unfortunately for Wisconsinites who dislike negative campaigning, this race is going to get really nasty. With President Barack Obama’s approval ratings collapsing and the unpopularity of the health care and stimulus bills, Democrats have only one last tool in the campaign handbook: throw mud.

Or, as Steve Singiser at the Daily Kos website said, “If Feingold can make the election about Johnson, he has a chance of resurrecting this race. Clearly, he needs to find some formula for bringing the Democratic base to the polls in order to win. Perhaps Johnson will prove himself to be the kind of villain to motivate Democrats into action.”

Before this race is over, Johnson’s own family will not be able to recognize him.

Ironically, much of the Democratic mud that will be thrown at Johnson will be paid for by Washington special interests, the same special interests Feingold claims to have fought his entire career.




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