Friday, May 15, 2015

Welcome back, Russ

Feingold declares himself a candidate in rematch against Ron Johnson

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold indicated this week that he will run to reclaim the seat he lost in 2010.

“People tell me all the time that our politics in Washington are broken, and that multi-millionaires, billionaires and big corporations are calling all the shots,” Feingold says in an online video introducing himself as a candidate.

Elected to serve three consecutive terms prior to his loss, Feingold was best known for putting forward a bipartisan bill (along with Republican Sen. John McCain) to curb campaign contributions from corporate interests.

Much of that law, known as McCain-Feingold, was gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in what many (including current justices) have called one of the biggest judicial mistakes made by the Court in recent years: the Citizens United ruling. The 5-4 decision paved the way for unlimited funding from corporations into U.S. elections.

Shortly after the ruling in 2010, there was one senator more than any other that the corporations supportive of that ruling wanted out of office: Russ Feingold. Several other factors (the rise of the Tea Party, for example) led political newcomer Ron Johnson to victory over Feingold.

The election represented “the most expensive campaign for federal office in state history” up to that time.

Feingold, who is notable for imposing limits on his own spending during previous election cycles, refused money from third party groups (such as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) to run ads against Johnson, a move that, while noble, may have cost him his seat.

That may not be an issue this time around. A March article from the Hill states that Johnson is the second-most vulnerable senator facing re-election this year, and with good reason: recent polling indicates that Johnson is vulnerable (PDF).

Only 32 percent of Wisconsinites polled recently had a favorable view of Johnson, while more than three-in-five had negative feelings about him. And in a matchup between the two, more voters preferred Feingold (54 percent) to Johnson (38 percent)...a full month before Feingold had even announced he was running.

The election will likely tighten in the months to come -- we’re still more than a year out from Election Day 2016 -- but Feingold may be one piece of the puzzle to Democrats winning back the Senate. Forty-four seats are held by Dems, and two seats are held by independents who caucus with Democrats. They only need five more seats to get the majority back (and only four if a Democrat is elected president).

Republicans will be defending 24 seats in 2016, with Democrats only defending 10 seats -- all of which are in states that President Barack Obama won in 2012 (seven of the Republican seats are also in Obama states, including Wisconsin).

That puts the Dems in a very good position, one that they can easily capitalize on in the next year or so. Having Feingold run against Johnson again may be a huge help -- with him already leading the incumbent, resources that would have been spent on Wisconsin can be dedicated to races elsewhere.

We’re nowhere near knowing if that will indeed be the case. But Feingold’s entrance into the Senate race against Ron Johnson certainly opens up that possibility, and brings added excitement to the state’s Democratic Party, which is in desperate need of a big win like this could be.

As for me, all I have to say is this:

Welcome back, Russ. You’ve been missed.

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