Thursday, September 29, 2016

Race of the Day- Wisconsin U.S. Senate

39 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result:  Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Leans Democrat

Former Senator Russ Feingold is looking to pull off something that would be fairly unprecedented in politics. It is very rare that a U.S. Senator who was defeated for reelection makes a comeback to be elected to the legislative body, though several have tried. To my knowledge, no former Senator has ever won a re-match against the sitting Senator who had defeated them. In spite of all this,  the Democrat Feingold appears to be the favorite to replace the Republican incumbent who ousted him six years earlier.

First elected in 1992, Feingold went on to be a liberal Senator with a national following, in line with some past Wisconsin left-leaning populists. He appeared vulnerable in his first reelection campaign but narrowly won. His 2004 reelection was easier and he was talked about as a potential future Presidential candidate. In 2010 though, the Republican wave made its way up north to the Badger State, and in a result that surprised many, conservative manufacturing executive Ron Johnson, a first time candidate for office, defeated Feingold by five points. All of the traditional liberal talking points about greedy businessmen and outsourcing failed to work and it was one of the most bitter pills for Democrats to swallow that midterm.

After his defeat, some thought that Feingold could rebound by running for Governor or for a newly open U.S. Senate seat in 2012, but the former Senator demurred. He seemed to have a rematch with Johnson in 2016 as his sole objective. Although it is considered a major battleground state, no Republican Presidential candidate has carried Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan won nearly every state in 1984. A higher turnout during a Presidential year of minorities and college students would give Feingold a better chance of beating Johnson during a Presidential year instead of a midterm wave for the other party.

Still though, Johnson has incumbency and the fact that the voters had rejected Feingold before on his side. Both parties prepared for an expensive election with many outside influences taking part. Nonetheless, the polls have been fairly consistent. It is not an outright blowout, but Feingold has been up by at least a few points in every poll for the past year plus. Johnson is not seen as someone who has managed to make a major impact on Capitol Hill or home in Wisconsin. Being very wealthy and not having the same righteous objection to fundraising as Feingold, Johnson will have the money edge in this race, but it may not matter against an opponent who probably has more name recognition than the incumbent.

Recent polls show that Feingold is ahead by anywhere from five to ten points. If Johnson is to hold on to his seat, he will need to find some sort of momentum changer in this race. The presence of Donald Trump, who has been focusing on Wisconsin in the Presidential race, is likely not much of a help to Johnson, although he has calculated that he cannot afford to alienate Trump supporters, a lot of which are former Democrats. The incumbent has both stated that he looks forward to working with Trump and campaigning with him, to calling on him to apologize for certain statements. Democrats are certainly trying to tie Johnson to Trump as a means of driving up Democrat turnout. The national Democrat Senate committee has pulled back from plans to spend heavily on Feingold, which seems to indicate they think this race may be secure.

Ultimately, I think this race could wind up closer than some expect, but the edge is clearly with Feingold exacting the political revenge he first hinted at in his 2010 concession speech. Donald Trump may wind up being a major factor why, and the RNC Chair from Wisconsin might have to have that on his conscience. America's Dairyland may still have a nationally prominent Governor with continued national aspirations, as well as the Speaker of the House, likely to be the top Republican in Washington D.C., but it looks like the state will also once again have two liberal Democrats representing it in the Senate.

Johnson campaign link:

Senate races predicted:
11 D (8 Safe, 1 Likely, 2 Leans)
23 R (9 Safe, 5 Likely, 5 Leans, 4 Tossup)

Overall predicted thus far: 47 D, 53 R

Democrat Net Gain of 1