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Johnson/Feingold Race Expected to Top the Discussion at State GOP Convention


Hundreds of Republicans from across Wisconsin will gather in La Crosse this weekend for their annual state party convention.

This time, it coincides with news from former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold. He announced Thursday, that he wants to reclaim the seat he lost to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in 2010.

The convention will take a two-pronged approach, according to Chris Martin. He’s spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin. One, is to celebrate the accomplishments of 2014.

“The historic victories we achieved, re-electing Gov. Scott Walker, electing Brad Schimel as our Attorney General and of course sweeping every competitive legislative race across the state to secure strong majorities in the state Legislature,” Martin says.

The other prong, is to look ahead to the 2016 elections. Martin says the GOP wants to elect a Republican to the White House – he did not specify that the candidate be Gov. Walker, and the party wants to maintain control of both houses of the state Legislature.

Yet Martin acknowledges that the delegates will also now pay great attention to defending Sen. Ron Johnson’s seat, now that former Sen. Russ Feingold intends to challenge the incumbent.

“It’s going to be a tough race. It’s always a tough re-elect when you have a U.S. Senator who’s done a lot of really great things for us and he’ll be challenged most likely by a candidate that they’ll clear the field for,” Martin says.

Martin says the convention will feature break-out sessions, with one specifically focusing on better grass roots campaign techniques. He believes grass roots efforts will be key to keeping Sen. Johnson in office.

Wisconsin Democratic Party Spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff expects there will be lots of talk at the weekend convention about the U.S. Senate race. She says Republicans are taking Feingold’s challenge seriously.

“Absolutely, I think if you look at the most recent public polling that came out from Marquette University, it had Russ Feingold leading Ron Johnson by almost 20 points. It’s a huge lead that he had in a rematch, so I think they should be very concerned,” Baldauff says.

Another person who foresees the potential Johnson/Feingold rematch taking center stage at the GOP convention is UW Stevens Point Political Science Professor Dennis Riley.

“The primary impact that we’ll see is a bunch of Feingold bashing. It gives them some Democrats to take a swing at. They’ll take some swings at Hillary, but that’s not as important as being able to take some at Feingold. They’re not real Russ Feingold fans anyway,” Riley says.

Sen. Ron Johnson is scheduled to address the Republican gathering on Saturday. Other speakers will include Gov. Walker and Congressman Paul Ryan.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.