In 2004, the year Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) narrowly edged President George W. Bush in Wisconsin, Feingold faced an opponent similar to Johnson. Republican Tim Michels, a businessman and Gulf War veteran, spent his own money, questioned Feingolds lone dissenting vote on the USA PATRIOT Act and ultimately finished with just 44 percent of the vote. One of Feingolds favorite anecdotes is about his 1998 race, in which he recalls the four Republican and Democratic commentators on CNNs Crossfire predicted his loss right before the election; he won that race with 51 percent of the vote.
Just a Normal Guy
Johnson is nonetheless encouraged by the number of votes Feingold received in previous wins versus the Republican vote total in the Sept. 14 primary where Johnson faced only nominal opposition. At two Republican events over the weekend, he explained to supporters that since he got more than half a million votes in the primary, he would only need each of his voters to commit two friends to vote for him in the general election in order to eclipse the 900,000 or so votes Feingold got in his last midterm win.
At the 10th annual Fall Fest, a Republican fundraiser in GOP Rep. Paul Ryans district about an hours drive southwest of Milwaukee, Johnson got a standing ovation as he came to the microphone. Signs from Republican campaigns, including Bush/Cheney 04 and McCain/Palin 08, lined the walls of the large white tent that had been erected in an orchard. Wearing a red plaid shirt and jeans, Johnson depicted himself as just a normal guy whos every bit as concerned about the direction of this country as you are.
Im 55 years old. I grew up in an America that valued hard work, that celebrated success. Remember that? he said. Now what do we do? Our society seems to demonize successful people, to try to tear everybody down to the same level.
Members of the audience ate pork stimulus sandwiches, which were served next to paper pigs labeled Russ and Tom after the top two statewide Democratic candidates, and drank Miller Lite, Diet Coke and red wine in plastic cups.
Rose Parquette, a 58-year-old school administrator from Kenosha, said she voted for Johnson in the primary and would vote for him again in the general election. She was suspicious of Feingold.
We dont like politicians who say one thing in our district and go to Washington and do something else, she said.
Yet Johnson has been accused of a similar kind of saying one thing and doing something else. In multiple ads and news stories, Democrats have accused the Republican of taking government loans or soliciting stimulus funds for organizations he was involved with even while publicly opposing the stimulus. The most recent charge was that Johnson made calls on behalf of the Grand Opera House in Oshkosh, checking on the availability of stimulus funds for its restoration. Parquette said she was aware of the accusations but that they wouldnt change her vote.
I think in so many cases those types of things have been blown out of proportion, she said.
Johnson said four votes motivated him to oppose Feingold in his first race for elected office: the last two budget bills, the stimulus and health care.