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Feingold Counting on Being Underestimated

Despite Polling, Senator Is Unfazed by Tough Race

MILWAUKEE — On the morning of the Green Bay Packers’ first home game, when other politicians — including Republican Senate candidate Ron Johnson — headed north to politick and tailgate with the cheeseheads, Sen. Russ Feingold was nowhere near Lambeau Field.

Instead, the three-term Wisconsin Democrat waited under gray skies in a south side Milwaukee neighborhood on Sunday for the annual Mexican Independence Day parade. His 30 or so volunteers and staffers wore navy blue T-shirts that said “Standing Up for Wisconsin” on the front and had a spine on the back. No one seemed to think it was strange to see the short Jewish man in a sport coat and khakis walking among the cheering Latino crowds that lined the sidewalks.

“Soy Russ Feingold!” he called out, waving. “Mucho gusto!”

First elected to the Senate in 1992, Feingold has yet to have an easy re-election, a trend he attributes to his independence in Washington, D.C. Once viewed as potential presidential timber, this year Feingold is one of Republicans’ top targets, and there is evidence to suggest he’s in real trouble. A Public Policy Polling survey of likely voters taken Sept. 18-19 and released on Tuesday showed Johnson ahead of Feingold, 52 percent to 41 percent.

But Feingold seems unfazed. He said polling taken for his campaign around the Sept. 14 primary showed him ahead. Still, Johnson is partly self-funding his campaign and won’t lack for resources in the home stretch. As of Aug. 25, Feingold had raised $13.7 million and Johnson had raised $6.2 million this cycle, including $4.4 million in loans from himself.

In the six weeks from now to Election Day, Feingold said, he plans to emphasize his role as an independent, bipartisan and accessible representative for the Badger State. Every year since he was first elected, he has held a listening session in all 72 of Wisconsin’s counties, and he likes to tell stories about the legislative solutions to problems constituents brought to him at these sessions. He said he plans to highlight his work for more veterans centers in Wisconsin, for broader jobs tax cuts and for cutting spending, as evidenced in his Control Spending Now Act.

Kevin Baird, his wife and their two young sons were among the Feingold volunteers at the parade. Baird, a 48-year-old truck driver who lives in Milwaukee, said he appreciates Feingold’s vote in favor of health care reform — his mom is dying of breast cancer — and also his perspective on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bairds canvass on Feingold’s behalf in their free time.

“I love Russ Feingold,” Baird said. “I’ll fight and die for him.”

Feingold is counting on loyalty like that to help him win again, and he seems to take pride in noting how political pundits have unwisely predicted his political demise before.

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