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Politics & Government

Analyst: All Signs Point to Feingold Running For Senate

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Former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold is acting a lot like a candidate.

This week, the Democrat resigned his post as special envoy to the African Great Lakes and the Congo. He says he plans to tour Wisconsin extensively for the rest of the year.

Chris Murray, a lecturer at Marquette’s Les Aspin Center for Government, says all signs point to a possible rematch next year between Feingold and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. Johnson ousted Feingold in 2010.

Murray says Feingold might consider now a good time to get back in the game because of the political math.

"The major difference is 2016 is going to be a Senate campaign that will take place in the midst of a presidential election, whereas 2010 took place in a midterm election. If you look at turnout in Wisconsin in 2014, in last year’s midterm, and compare to what you saw in 2012, the previous presidential election, what that means is that in Wisconsin, you have about 650,000 more voters show up in a presidential election year than they do in in a midterm," Murray says. "And it’s not just 650,000 voters, it’s more likely that those are, by and large, Democratic voters. So the context in which he would be running in 2016 would be much more favorable to him as a Democratic candidate than the election he lost in."

Murray says Wisconsin voted for the Democratic presidential nominee the last seven elections, so Democrats are hoping to take advantage of that pattern in 2016.

"Sen. Johnson is in a lot of ways an anomaly, given his ideology and the direction of the state, especially in presidential election years. And for Democrats, that’s a big flashing signal that he is somebody that can be beat," Murray says. "Also, Sen. Johnson, prior to getting elected in 2010, had never held office in Wisconsin and so he doesn’t have the kind of track record of experience and name recognition and representative work and all those things that help incumbents win over time, that some other incumbents might have, somebody like Russ Feingold."

Feingold served 10 years in the state Senate, before being elected to three terms in the U.S. Senate.

"He was successful, but in his Senate campaigns, he was not winning by huge margins. The biggest percentage of the vote he ever got was 55 percent. But he was wining consistently," Murray says. "What he was able to do was tap into the progressive history and population in Wisconsin, especially in places like Dane County, and then of course Milwaukee...so that’s a little caveat I would have about Feingold -- if he were to get in and if he were to win, it would be largely because of the presidential election year electorate in Wisconsin that tends to be much more Democratic."

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