Tag Archives: Russ Feingold

Wisconsin Rep. Baldwin Announces Senate Bid

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2)

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2)

As expected, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) formally announced her bid for Wisconsin’s open U.S. Senate seat yesterday. The congresswoman has been preparing a statewide bid for months, but only kicked her fledging operation into high gear when former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) decided not to become a candidate. Vacating the safely Democratic 2nd district means that 41 seats are now open due to an incumbent announcing he or she will not seek re-election, or because reapportionment or redistricting creates an incumbent-less district.

The Wisconsin campaign has been slow-moving. Incumbent Sen. Herb Kohl (D) announced back on May 13 that he would not seek a fourth term next year, yet official candidate announcements began only last week. Rep. Baldwin now becomes the third person to enter the field of contenders. On the Republican side, former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald both say they are in the race. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson is expected to soon join the Republican contestants. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3) and ex-Congressman Steve Kagen (D-WI-8) are potential Democratic nomination opponents to Ms. Baldwin.

The Wisconsin Senate race is likely to be one of the closest statewide political contests in the nation next year. The outcome could well decide the Senate majority, as projections suggest that both parties will likely be at parity after the next election. Currently, the Democrats hold a 53-47 spread. Republicans are already likely to gain two seats – North Dakota open and Nebraska – thus bringing the party division to 51D-49R. Missouri (Sen. Claire McCaskill), Virginia (open – Sen. Jim Webb retiring), and Montana (Sen. Jon Tester) are all toss-up Democratic seats in addition to Wisconsin. All other races remaining constant, the Republicans would have to win two of the latter four to take the majority; Democrats would have to hold three of four to retain power.
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Interesting Wisconsin Senate Numbers

Now that ex-Sen. Russ Feingold (D) has made his decision not to enter the 2012 open US Senate race in Wisconsin with Sen. Herb Kohl (D) retiring, the real campaign will now get underway. In particular, potential Democratic candidates were deferring to Feingold and holding back officially announcing their own campaigns in order to determine if the former senator would again enter the electoral fray. Now that he is officially out of the race, we can expect a series of people to soon announce for the seat.

In anticipation of the building candidate field from both parties in what will be a highly competitive campaign, Public Policy Polling released the results of their latest Wisconsin survey that handicaps the field in both party primaries.

For the Republicans, all eyes are on the 69-year-old former governor, Tommy Thompson, who was elected to four consecutive terms beginning in 1986. He left midway through his final term to become Secretary of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration. Though he still has not officially announced his Senatorial campaign, Mr. Thompson has openly talked about getting into the race. He is likely to be opposed by former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), who was first elected to the House for two terms in 1994 and ’96 before challenging and losing to Sen. Feingold in 1998, 48-51 percent.

On the Republican side of the ledger, PPP (Aug. 12-14; 362 “usual” Wisconsin GOP primary voters) tried a different approach, actually asking voters a “push” question after they indicated which candidate they would support. Predicting some of the attack points Neumann, and even the Democrats, will likely use against Thompson, the study produced interesting results.

In the straight ballot test question, Thompson leads Neumann 47-39 percent. The former governor’s personal approval rating among the Republican respondents is 74:17 percent positive to negative. Neumann’s is a sound 43:14 percent.

When PPP asked their loaded push question against Thompson, however, the results sharply turned. The question posed to the respondents was:

While Tommy Thompson was governor, he more than doubled state spending and increased government bureaucracy. Then he endorsed Obamacare, President Obama’s $1-trillion-dollar government takeover of health care. Given this information, would you vote for Mark Neumann or Tommy Thompson if the primary for Senate was today?

After hearing this question, Thompson dropped almost half of his previous support, from 47 percent all the way down to 26 percent. Neumann shot up from 39 percent to 59 percent. Thompson will have to respond hard to neutralize what are sure to be negative attacks of this type in both the primary and general elections.

Looking at the Democrats, the three most likely candidates are Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2), who will likely announce within days, Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3), who is not necessarily going to enter the race, and defeated Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI-8).

When PPP tested these names before 387 “usual” Wisconsin Democratic primary voters, Ms. Baldwin captured the decided advantage, leading 37-21-15 percent over Kind and Kagen, respectively. If Kind does not become a candidate, Baldwin then enjoys a 48-19 percent edge over Mr. Kagen.

Regardless of the outcome of both primaries, the Wisconsin Senate race will be one of the most hard-fought political battles in the 2012 election. The outcome of this race could conceivably decide which party will control the Senate majority in the next Congress.
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Feingold is a No-Go in Wisconsin

Defeated Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D), who lost his seat to Republican Ron Johnson last November, officially closed the door Friday on an imminent return to elective politics during this current election cycle.

With Sen. Herb Kohl (D) saying he will not seek re-election in 2012, all eyes in both parties turned toward Feingold, since he is the most logical Democrat to attempt to keep the seat in his party’s column. Early polling was suggesting that the former senator would defeat all potential Republicans and Democrats if he were to enter the field of candidates. Though Feingold said in his public statement that he may again seek elective office, he will not do so in 2012. Instead, he wants to continue in his teaching duties at Marquette University and chairing the issue advocacy group that he founded, Progressives United.

The Wisconsin open seat Senate race has been unique because of the lack of early activity among potential candidates. The others reportedly considering the race, particularly among Democrats, seemed paralyzed as they waited for Mr. Feingold to make a decision; most unusual for a political figure who only months ago lost a major election when in the incumbent’s position.

With the former senator now out of the 2012 race, expect the candidate announcements to soon be forthcoming. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) is now a virtual sure entrant. Though she hasn’t committed to the statewide race in deference to Feingold, she has been actively raising money in her congressional account, which is transferable to a Senate race because both are federal campaigns. Through June 30th, Ms. Baldwin raised over $601,000 but has more than $1.1 million in the bank.

Polling suggests that Rep. Baldwin assumes the position of early leader for her party’s nomination. Back in July, Magellan Strategies (July 12-13; 627 Wisconsin Democratic primary voters) gave the Madison congresswoman a 41-19 percent lead over 3rd District Rep. Ron Kind, and a 45-21 percent advantage over defeated 8th District Rep. Steve Kagen.

But the recent Public Policy Polling survey (Aug. 12-14; 830 registered Wisconsin voters) tells a much different story as it relates to the general election. Upon Sen. Kohl’s announcement, former four-term Gov. Tommy Thompson, now 69 years old, said immediately that he was serious about entering the race as a candidate. Former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) who lost 48-51 percent to Sen. Feingold in 1998, also said he would likely hop into the race. Neumann had even been actively considering a challenge to Kohl. The latest PPP data actually shows both Republicans to have slight leads over the potential Democratic field, in what now has to be considered a top GOP conversion opportunity.

According to the Public Policy Polling data, Thompson would lead Baldwin 50-42 percent and Neumann would enjoy a 44-40 percent edge over the congresswoman. If Kind were to win the Democratic nomination, Thompson would lead him 48-41 percent, while Neumann clings to a 43-40 percent margin. Should Kagen rise to the top of the Democratic field, he too would trail both Republicans. In the latter case, Thompson is up 49-41 percent; Neumann 45-38 percent.

The Wisconsin electorate, possibly because of the negativity surrounding the state’s public employee labor unrest and subsequent recall elections, view all of the potential candidates unfavorably, with the exception of Thompson. Former Sen. Feingold was also in positive numbers.

Thompson scores a 44:42 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio. Feingold did better than anyone else tested, but even his numbers weren’t overwhelming. He posted 49:43 percent.

All others are in an upside down position. Neumann registers 25:27 percent; Baldwin, a similar 26:28 percent. Rep. Kind is down 18:26 percent, while Kagen has the worst numbers by far, 12:23 percent.

In what will likely become a similar Wisconsin story in the presidential race, expect this Senate campaign to be difficult, hard-fought, and close. Though the action has been slow to start, it will soon become fast and furious. The Wisconsin Senate will likely be in the toss-up category all the way to the November 2012 Election Day and could very well be the deciding state in determining which party assumes the US Senate majority in the next Congress.
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GOP Survives Wisconsin Senate Recalls

Last night, Badger State voters went to the polls to decide the controversial Wisconsin recall elections in six state Senate districts. All featured Republican incumbents defending their seats. Next Tuesday, two Democratic incumbents will face the voters.

Democrats were successful in defeating two of the GOP incumbents but, overall, the results did not accomplish what the union organizers who gathered the necessary petitions to force a vote had desired. At the beginning of the evening, the Senate party division was 19R-14D. With the two Democratic victories, the worst case scenario for the GOP after the completion of all recall voting will be 17R-16D. Since only Democratic incumbents are before the voters on August 16th, the Republicans can only increase their majority or remain clinging to a one-seat advantage.

Turnout was predictably high. In most cases the numbers reached approximately 80 percent of what appear to be normal general election voter participation levels. This helped the GOP win two-thirds of the contests. Low turnout elections are normally won by the side that is most driven to turnout. Since the unions and Democrats were forcing the recalls to protest GOP Gov. Scott Walker and the legislature’s actions to curtail the public employee union benefits and organizing rights, it was they who should have been more energized. The districts were largely Republican, but President Obama did win all eight of the jurisdictions back in 2008. So, it is conceivable the Democrats could have done better.

The two seats they won were rather expected. Sen. Dan Kapanke (R), who represents a southwestern Wisconsin seat including the city of Lacrosse, suffered the biggest defeat, losing 45-55 percent to Democrat Jennifer Schilling. Kapanke, you may remember, challenged Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3) in their 2010 congressional race, losing 46-50 percent – a better result than he received last night in trying to defend his own position. Of the seats facing recall, this 32nd district was by far the most Democratic. The President received 61 percent here in 2008. Sen. Ron Johnson (R) who unseated then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in 2010, scored only 49 percent here. Walker posted 42 percent. In the other post-general election political race, the hotly contested 2011 battle for a key state Supreme Court seat, Republican incumbent Judge David Prosser, who won statewide, failed to carry the 32nd district. He registered only 44 percent. Last night’s recall here produced the biggest Democratic victory of the night, but in this type of district, such a result was largely expected.

The other Democratic victory featured a scandal-tainted Republican incumbent in the 18th district. Sen. Randy Hopper was the subject of controversy regarding an extra-marital affair and a messy divorce while the labor unrest in the state capitol was occurring. He lost his Senate seat last night by a tight 49-51 percent margin to Democrat Jessica King. Both new Senators will have to defend their seats in the 2012 general election, as that is the normal election time for the two even-numbered districts. Wisconsin state Senators receive four-year terms. The elections are staggered so that half of the seats stand for election every two years. The odd-numbers run with the governor; evens with the President. The 18th district is much more Republican than the previously mentioned 32nd district. Obama posted 51 percent in 2008. The 2010-11 District 18 results gave Sen. Johnson 59 percent, Gov. Walker 57 percent; and Judge Prosser 53 percent.

The Republican incumbents carried their districts last night with victory margins of 60 percent (Sen. Rob Cowles in District 2), 58 percent (Sen. Sheila Harsdorf in District 10), 54 percent (Sen. Alberta Darling in District 8), and 52 percent (Sen. Luther Olsen in District 14). Of these, the Harsdorf victory is the most impressive, as the Republican numbers were not as strong as in the other districts. Judge Prosser, for example, failed to carry this seat in 2011, scoring 48 percent of the vote.

Though the GOP lost two seats in the recall process, they appear to have survived all of the post-budget crisis action in relatively good shape. In the face of superior labor union and Democratic Party political organizing, they turned back the Supreme Court challenge and held onto the state Senate majority after enacting the controversial public employee union legislation that rocked the state capitol with nationally covered protests and featured the Democrats failing to report to the Senate for weeks. All of this in a state that routinely elects Democrats to positions of power. Wisconsin will clearly be a major battleground state for the coming 2012 election.
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Senate Candidates Coming Forward

The political situation surrounding three U.S. Senate states became clearer yesterday. With Friday’s announcement from Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) saying he would not seek a fourth term next year, the Wisconsin political merry-go-round immediately began circling and an old familiar face came forward.

After House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) decided to remain in his current position, former Gov. Tommy Thompson began making it known that he is interested in running for the open seat. Thompson served four terms as governor from 1987 to 2001 and then became Pres. George W. Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. He made an ill-fated run for the presidency in 2008, failing to even get out of the starting blocks. The 69-year-old Thompson’s entry would be a bit of a surprise, since he considered running statewide several times after leaving the state house and then repeatedly stated his disinclination to initiate another political campaign.

Should he get back into the game in 2012, Mr. Thompson may draw serious primary opposition. Former Reps. Mark Green (R-WI-8) and Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), who have both previously lost statewide campaigns, have not ruled out running for the Senate. The state legislature’s brother tandem of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and House Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald have also been mentioned as potential Senate contenders.

Wisconsin Democrats will have a strong field of potential candidates from which to choose. Leading the group is former Sen. Russ Feingold who was defeated for re-election in 2010. Before Sen. Kohl announced his retirement, Feingold said he was not considering running in 2012 even if the Senate seat were to open. Now that Kohl is stepping aside, Feingold has a real decision to make. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) and former Milwaukee mayor and congressman Tom Barrett, who lost to Gov. Scott Walker in November, are both potential candidates. Regardless of who ultimately chooses to run, this open seat contest is likely to become 2012’s premier Senate race.

In Missouri, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) has finally indicated that he will run for the Senate, ending weeks of speculation. Since two Republicans have already announced they are running for his congressional seat, as if it were already open, Akin’s Senate announcement seems anticlimactic. He enters a primary against former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman of Springfield and possibly healthcare company CEO John Brunner from St. Louis. Steelman has the potential of becoming a strong candidate, so an Akin nomination should not be considered a foregone conclusion.

The winner of the Missouri Republican Senatorial primary will face vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), seeking her first re-election to the post she originally won in 2006. Missouri’s recent voting history plus her failure to pay property taxes on an airplane that her husband partially owns has brought this race into the toss-up zone. Missouri was the closest state in the 2008 presidential campaign as John McCain slipped past Pres. Obama by just 3,903 votes. It was only the second time since 1900 that Missouri failed to side with the winner in the presidential contest. Last election, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO-7) scored an impressive 13-point victory over Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), sister of current Congressman Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3). Hence, the last two elections may signal that Missouri voters are moving decidedly to the right.

The open North Dakota seat also saw its first major entry. Freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND-AL) announced via video on Monday that he will run for the retiring Sen. Kent Conrad’s (D) open seat. Berg should coast to the Republican nomination and becomes the prohibitive favorite to convert the seat for his party in the general election. Public Utilities Commissioner Brian Kalk had already announced for the Republican Senatorial nomination, but he is expected to drop down to the open House race. Most of the North Dakota political action will now center around Berg’s vacated at-large House district.
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