Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) seems to positioning himself for a rematch against Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who defeated him in 2010.
Democrats see Johnson as a top target, and have been drooling over the possibility of defeating him in 2016. Feingold currently serves as the special envoy to the Great Lakes region in Africa for the U.S. State Department. He’s slated to deliver his final speech as envoy on Tuesday, and is expected to leave the post shortly after to begin preparing to run against Johnson.
Sources close to Feingold told TPM that while he hasn’t made any final plans about running for Senate, the former Democratic senator and liberal favorite has begun telling people about his interest.
A close confidant of the former senator told TPM that Feingold had spoken to Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and “told them he is seriously taking a look at it.”
TPM was unable to reach Feingold at the State Department on Monday.
Liberal Democrats see Feingold as potentially their best chance of retaking the Senate seat.
“All I would say is, I think Russ was an excellent U.S. senator and I think he represents, or did represent, the values that Wisconsin appreciates. And I would hope that is considering it,” former Rep. David Obey (D-WI), an outspoken liberal firebrand in the House, told TPM on Monday. “I have no idea what his plans are or, if he has plans, when they would begin to manifest themselves.”
Obey said he thinks it’s a shame that Feingold lost to Johnson, and added that Feingold would definitely be someone who “would give us a chance to restore Wisconsin to the progressive side of the ledger. And God knows, with what’s been happening in the Congress and in Madison, with the governor’s office, that’s badly needed.”
Both Democratic and Republican operatives in Wisconsin are already getting used to the idea of a Johnson-Feingold rematch. Mike Tate, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party told National Journal that Feingold is “the strongest candidate to take on Ron Johnson in 2016.”
National Journal also said that Johnson currently has approximately $600,000 in the bank for his re-election campaign. Johnson was elected on the tea party wave in 2010. He’s one of the most conservative members of the Senate and a Public Policy Polling survey in 2014 found that Johnson had 34 percent job approval rating among Wisconsinites, while 36 percent disapproved of him. 30 percent don’t feel they have a strong enough opinion about him to make a determination. In a head-to-head matchup, the poll found Feingold beating Johnson 47 percent to 41 percent.
Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) has also been mentioned as a potential candidate against Johnson but that same PPP poll from April found Johnson leading Kind 41 percent to 39 percent, with another 20 percent undecided.
Another poll from Marquette University conducted in October, also found Feingold with higher favorability than Johnson.
In anticipation of a possible challenge, Johnson has already begun taking swings at Feingold.
“He’s got a record of being fully supportive of a big, intrusive, controlling federal government and I would say right now that doesn’t sell very well,’ Johnson told the conservative magazine, National Review.
The DSCC seems confident that Democrats can take advantage of Johnson’s less than ideal numbers.
“There are a number of talented potential candidates in Wisconsin who could successfully take on Ron Johnson, who has spent his first term catering to the extreme wing of his party, and is now cheering a DHS shutdown,” DSCC National Press Secretary Sadie Weiner told TPM in a statement.