Candidates Ramp up the Rhetoric in Wisconsin Senate Race

Jul 5, 2016

Republican incumbent Ron Johnson will face former Democratic U.S. Senator Russ Feingold in November – if Feingold wins a Democratic primary next month. The race would be a rematch from 2010, but some things will be different.

The two hopefuls for U.S. Senate have been crafting their images for Wisconsin voters, according to Charles Franklin. He is director of the Marquette Law School Poll. For instance, incumbent Ron Johnson has frequently been weighing in on terrorism and gun control.

“We’ve seen Sen. Johnson emphasize national security a fair bit. One of his senate committees deals with that, but he has also this year come back to emphasizing his roots as a business man,” Franklin says.

As for Democrat Russ Feingold,“he’s emphasized his statewide tours, visiting all 72 counties, and his advertising has a lot of emphasis on that connection with voters as your guy. He talks about raising the minimum wage to something like $15 an hour,” Franklin says.

Feingold is expected to easily defeat a Democratic opponent in the August primary, and that would set-up a rematch in November. It was six years ago, that Johnson unseated Feingold - sweeping into office on the coattails of the Tea Party movement.

This time around, Franklin’s polls show Feingold leading Johnson, plus this is a presidential year – and Wisconsin has leaned Democrat for more than 30 years. Yet more than a rematch is at stake. Franklin points out that Republicans control the U.S. Senate by only a handful of votes.

“Control of the Senate is the highest stake of all and as a chance for a Democratic pick up that comes closer to that goal of a Democratic Senate, it becomes a very important race on those terms,” Franklin says.

So special interests and outside money are working to sway voters by running attack ads. "The world of Super PACS has come a long way since 2010, so you’re going to see much more outside money," says Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report. The non-partisan group analyzes elections for members of Congress.

Duffy says special interests only spent a few million dollars on the contest in 2010, but predicts they’ll spend boatloads this year. “We’ve already seen the tip of the spear in terms of outside groups coming in to do advertising. Both Feingold and Sen. Johnson are on the air already with ads. I think this is going to be a very advertising heavy race,” she says.

Some of the wealthiest politicos in the country have signaled their intention to pour big money into the Wisconsin Senate race, including Americans for Prosperity and the liberal leaning PAC, For Our Future.

And each candidate will also have big names backing his campaign. Former President George W. Bush plans to campaign for Johnson, while President Obama has made a fundraising plea for Feingold.