FEB. 24 – Likely signaling a return to elective politics former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) late last week officially resigned his US State Department position, a necessary step for anyone planning to announce a political candidacy. It has long been surmised that Feingold would seek a rematch with the man who unseated him in 2010, first-term Sen. Ron Johnson (R).
Feingold was originally elected to the Senate in the Clinton presidential year of 1992, after spending 10 years in the Wisconsin state legislature. He defeated then two-term incumbent Sen. Bob Kasten (R) with a 53-46 percent victory margin. Six years later he faced then-Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) in what proved to be a much closer race than originally predicted. Feingold scored a close win over Neumann, 51-48 percent. He won a much easier 55-44 percent victory in 2004 before losing 47-52 percent to Johnson in the Republican wave year of 2010. President Obama then appointed him as a special US envoy to the African Great Lakes region.
Sen. Johnson has been commonly viewed as one of the more vulnerable Republicans standing for re-election in 2016. Wisconsin is a volatile political state, but historically has voted Democratic. Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) three consecutive wins and Johnson’s victory five years ago, however, suggest that the state is becoming highly competitive. In fact, since 2010, inclusive, Republicans have actually won four of the six Wisconsin statewide federal races. So, Feingold cannot expect an easy road back to the Senate.
Though the former senator would begin a new campaign with virtually complete familiarity with the electorate, coupled with a national fund-raising base, Johnson might find a re-match with Feingold an easier campaign than against a fresh opponent, one with no voting record. The liberal Feingold lost by five full points in 2010, and he never exceeded 55 percent statewide in any of his elections. Though he has certain obvious strengths as a candidate, he also carries significant political baggage.
It is clear, however, that a Johnson-Feingold re-match will attract major national media attention, and will likely be a very close contest.
A federal judge’s lawsuit ruling saying Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) must call the special congressional election in the vacant Staten Island/Brooklyn seat or the court would step in and do so, achieved its intended results. On Friday, Gov. Cuomo set May 5 as the special election date to replace resigned Rep. Michael Grimm (R).
Cuomo was delaying scheduling the election because the Democrats are in poor position to win the seat in a low turnout format. He did this once before in a western New York District and the courts backed his decision not to have a special before the 2010 regular election. But, trying to hold a seat vacant for the entire 114th Congress did not pass judicial oversight. State law is clear about how many days an election must occur after the vote is called, but it is vague concerning when a governor must act. It was Cuomo’s argument that he could act whenever he chose. The court disagreed.
Under New York election law, the local political parties choose their nominees in lieu of a special primary election. Republicans already have tabbed Richmond County district Attorney Dan Donovan as their nominee. Democrats will now select their candidate. Most believe that New York City Councilman Vincent Gentile of Brooklyn has the best chance of being named. Donovan is a heavy favorite to win the May election, but national and state Democrats say they will make a strong effort to contest seat in the regular 2016 election.