George Will in The Washington Post:
Before what he calls “the jaw-dropping” events of the past 19 months — TARP, the stimulus, Government Motors, the mistreatment of Chrysler’s creditors, Obamacare, etc. — the idea of running for office never crossed Ron Johnson’s mind. He was, however, dry tinder — he calls Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” his “foundational book” — and now is ablaze, in an understated, Upper Midwestern way. This 55-year-old manufacturer of plastic products from Oshkosh, Wis., is what the Tea Party looks like.
He is trim, gray-haired and suddenly gray-suited. For years he has worn jeans and running shoes to his office, but now, under spousal duress, he is trying to look senatorial — “My wife upgraded me to brown shoes.” He has been endorsed by the state party and will almost certainly win the September primary for the Republican nomination to run against Russ Feingold, who is seeking a fourth term in a year in which incumbency is considered a character flaw.
Former Republican governor Tommy Thompson led Feingold in polls and froze the race on the Republican side before deciding not to run. But in this season of simmering resentment of the political class, a neophyte such as Johnson might be a stronger candidate than a recycled executive. Johnson can fund himself. Asked how much of his wealth he will spend, if necessary, his answer is as simple as it is swift: “All of it.”
Feingold, 57, is an elusive target. In recent polls he has been under 50 percent when matched with potential Republican challengers. A political lifer, three years out of law school Feingold began a 10-year stint as a state senator, then became a U.S. senator. His cultivated quirkiness complicates attempts to cast him as a traditional liberal. In 1999, he was the only Democrat to vote against the motion to dismiss the impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton, and in 2008 he voted against the now hugely unpopular bailout legislation — TARP (the Troubled Assets Relief Program).
This year’s turbulence has already visited Wisconsin. Facing a strong Republican challenge, Rep. David Obey, 71, who went to Congress in 1969 and chairs the House Appropriations Committee, has decided to retire, even though his district has not voted Republican in a presidential election since 1984.
Johnson, a pro-life Lutheran, will highlight Feingold’s opposition to banning late-term abortions: “I would like to ask Russ, ‘Have you ever witnessed a partial-birth abortion?’ ” But this year the “social issues,” as normally understood, are less important than the social issue as Johnson understands it — the transformation of American society in a way foreshadowed in fiction.
What Samuel Johnson said of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” — “None ever wished it longer than it is” — some readers have said of “Atlas Shrugged.” Not Johnson, who thinks it is “too short” at 1,088 pages.
Eric Kleefeld at Talking Points Memo:
The new Rasmussen poll of Wisconsin says that Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is in a close race with businessman Ron Johnson, who is enjoying a boost of good publicity after his endorsement by the state GOP convention this past weekend.
The numbers: Feingold 46%, Johnson 44%. Feingold also leads the two other businessmen in the GOP race, leading Dave Westlake by 47%-38% and Terrence Wall — who is reportedly set to exit the race soon — by 47%-41%. The survey of likely voters has a ±4.5% margin of error.
The TPM Poll Average has Feingold leading Westlake by 47.0%-38.6%, and leading Wall by 47.3%-42.3%. This is the first publicly released poll to feature Johnson. The GOP previously lost out on its top recruiting opportunity when former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who led Feingold by 45.3%-41.9%, announced in April that he would not run.
It’s a tight race even in the internals. Surprisingly, Johnson wins a two-point edge among 18-29YO voters, but apart from an eleven-point lead among 40-49YO voters, the age demographics are all narrowly split. The income demographics show more definition between the candidates, but Johnson wins more of them than does Feingold. Feingold takes a six-point lead among independents, 44-38, but 10% are still undecided.
It won’t help that Wisconsin voters favor repealing the ObamaCare bill 53/38, and favor passage of an Arizona-like immigration-enforcement law in their state, 57/29. Unlike other Democratic incumbents in blue states, Barack Obama is just underwater in approval, 49/50. The current Democratic Governor is farther underwater at 41/57.
Feingold does have a decent favorability rating at +9, 53/44, but with only 3% having no opinion. He’s well defined, thanks to his long incumbency. Johnson, on the other hand, has 32% of the likely voters in Wisconsin to convince one way or the other. Among the rest, he has a +17 at 42/25. If Johnson can define himself in this race before Feingold can do the job for him, he has plenty of room to improve his standing and his numbers. For Feingold, it looks as though he’s near his ceiling already.
John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:
Feingold hasn’t faced a competitive race since 1998, but it certainly seems like Johnson will give Feingold a run for his money this year.
Voters may be breaking up the McCain-Feingold gang.
The main sponsors of the Screw-the-First campaign law known as McCain-Feingold — Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold — might lose their re-election bids this year.
McCain is running hard for the Republican nomination.
Now Feingold is in trouble.
From Rasmussen: “Businessman Ron Johnson, endorsed at last weekend’s state Republican Convention, is now running virtually even against incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold in Wisconsin’s race for the U.S. Senate.”
The score is Feingold 46%, Johnson 44%.
The Supreme Court gutted much of this ugly, anti-free speech law that limited any criticism of an incumbent senator or congressman just before any election.
The Founding Fathers did not spin in their graves; they puked.
I hope they both lose.
Will drops an important fact midway through his column — Sen. Russ Feingold (R-Wisc.), whom Johnson is running against, did not vote for TARP. That will force Johnson to confront Feingold — and Feingold to confront Johnson — on government and spending issues that are less unpopular. But Republicans are currently swooning over a Rasmussen poll showing Johnson, a total unknown, in a statistical tie with Feingold.