Milwaukee News Buzz
When former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson decided earlier this year he wasn’t going to run for U.S. Senate, that seemed to kill chances for a competitive race for Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold’s seat. Or so pundits thought. But the national spotlight that once shone on the state as Thompson considered a run has suddenly returned, in reaction to a survey by a Democrat-favored pollster showing Feingold with only a slim margin over his leading Republican opponent, newcomer Ron Johnson.
While the margin isn’t as close as the one polled by Rasmussen Reports, a firm little trusted by Democrats, who accuse its results of skewing in favor of Republicans, the Public Policy Polling survey released at the end of June has Feingold beating Johnson by a nose, 45-43. About a week before, Rasmussen polled the race at 46-45. Rasmussen has been the subject of some scorn after releasing results showing the two in a tie shortly after Johnson announced his candidacy.
The Wisconsin GOP latched onto the PPP poll immediately. “So are the Democrats going to claim this is a Republican polling firm too?” said Mark Jefferson, executive director of the party. “Their client list reads like a who’s who of Democrat front groups.”
According to Politico, the list contains more than just front groups. “The firm makes its money by serving as the pollster to an exclusively Democratic roster of clients, ranging from members of Congress to dozens of state legislative and city council candidates,” the political website says. “And CEO Dean Debnam has given generously to North Carolina Democratic candidates.”
A Tuesday story by a national Associated Press political reporter says few Democrats expected Feingold to face a serious challenge until recently. Johnson, it says, is “a wealthy political newcomer with early backing from tea party activists in a state that has many independent voters and is known for doing its own thing.”
The Washington Times noted on Sunday, “Polls show Mr. Feingold with a razor-thin lead over an unknown Oshkosh businessman with no political experience.” UW-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin told the newspaper, “Almost nobody knows anything about Johnson, but yet he’s still only two to four points behind Feingold, and I think what that shows is just how energized Republicans are.”
Politico observed on Tuesday: “With polls showing Johnson in a statistical dead heat with Feingold, the senator has wasted no time training his fire on the political neophyte, portraying him as outside the mainstream in the mold of Sharron Angle of Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky.”
Debnam the pollster has words of warning for Feingold: “Johnson should win the primary and has a good chance of winning the general. But he needs to focus on spreading his name and message. Feingold can’t depend on his popularity alone. He has to win over undecided voters, that is who is going to determine this election.”
Debnam adds that Ron Johnson and the other Republican candidate, Dave Westlake (who lost to Feingold 38-45 in the poll), fared far better in the hypothetical match-ups with Feingold than in their individual approval ratings, suggesting respondents were voting against the incumbent. In the poll, 62 percent of respondents said they were “not sure” about Johnson while 20 percent found him “favorable” and 18 percent found him “unfavorable.” Only 15 percent were “not sure” about Feingold; 42 approved of his performance in the Senate; and 42 percent disapproved.
The poll of 638 Wisconsin voters also asked people to identify their political affiliation – 33 percent were Democrats, 32 percent were Republicans and 34 percent called themselves independents or gave some other affiliation.