Politics

Johnson Raises $2.1 Million, Sees Post-Primary Momentum

Republican incumbent still falls short of Feingold in fundraising

Johnson is optimistic that the success of so-called outsider candidates in last week's Wisconsin presidential primaries bodes well for him in November against a former three-term senator. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who is seeking to keep his seat in a tight race this cycle, raised more than $2.1 million in the first quarter of 2016.  

That's an improvement from the $1.6 million he raised in the last quarter of 2015, but still falls short of the nearly $3.4 million that his competitor, former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, raised during the same three-month period this year.  

Johnson's numbers are being reported Tuesday morning in an internal memo obtained by CQ Roll Call. The memo lays out the state of the tight Senate race in the wake of last week's presidential primary in the Badger State, in which Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders posted double-digit victories.  

The strength of so-called outsider candidates last week, Johnson campaign manager Betsy Ankney writes in the memo, bodes well for Johnson in November. The campaign has tried to cast Feingold, a former three-term senator, as the actual incumbent instead of Johnson. Part of that characterization is Feingold's fundraising advantage — what the Johnson campaign has portrayed as campaign finance hypocrisy .  

Wisconsin hasn't voted for a Republican for president since 1988, but the Johnson campaign is optimistic that the state is trending red because more voters participated in the Republican than Democratic primary. Partisan primary turnout is not necessarily indicative of general election votes, however, especially in a state like Wisconsin where the primaries were open to independents.  

Pointing to the recent electoral victory of a conservative Supreme Court justice and the Republican party's success at the state level, the campaign believes there's an opportunity for Johnson to buck the state's Democratic presidential leanings.  

The memo points to Sanders' strong primary performance in the state to underscore the appeal of outsider candidates and concludes, "Hillary will be a drag on the Democratic ticket in November." That assumes, perhaps prematurely, that Badger State supporters of Sanders won't embrace Hillary Clinton if she wins the nomination.  

With the presidential primary circus having left the state, the Senate race is now the main event in Wisconsin. The Johnson campaign expects to benefit from much of the state party's organizational apparatus moving forward and plans to build on databases from both the state party and Gov. Scott Walker.  

In particular, the campaign credits the political operation of Walker, who endorsed Cruz just before the state's presidential primary, for the Texas senator's primary victory. That same force, the campaign argues, will be working to turn out voters for Johnson "no matter who the nominee is."  

Unlike many of this year's vulnerable Republican incumbents, who have tried to leave distance between themselves and Donald Trump, Johnson has said that he would be open to campaigning with the GOP front-runner  and has argued that having Trump at the top of the ticket will help turn out new voters for his re-election.  

Johnson is widely regarded as this year's second most vulnerable senator , and he has consistently trailed Feingold in both fundraising and polls. The most recent Marquette University Law School poll, however, showed Feingold's lead narrowing . Since then, two additional polls — one from Emerson and one from the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling have showed a somewhat tightening race.  

With the presidential candidates clearing the airwaves, both sides in the Senate race went on the air Monday. Feingold debuted his first television ad, a positive spot that touts his visits to all 72 counties in the state. A pro-Johnson super PAC, Let America Work, attacked Feingold in a new foreign policy-themed ad. Last week, Americans for Prosperity invested $1.1 million in a television and digital campaign praising Johnson.  

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