In Wisconsin, Democrats Are On the Defensive

GOP eyes Feingold's Senate seat, both parties jockey over House seat held by retiring Rep. David Obey.

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Predictions are flying about the likelihood of the House and Senate changing party hands in November's midterm elections. But before parties can plan their agendas for the next congressional session, their candidates have to make it through the primaries. After Tuesday, the last big day of the 2010 primary season, nearly all of the nominees for the general election will habe been chosen. Altogether, voters in seven states plus the District of Columbia on Tuesday will finalize their November ballots for 61 House seats, six Senate seats, and six gubernatorial races. Only the Hawaii primary and a House runoff primary in Louisiana will remain.


The Wisconsin Senate seat currently held by Russ Feingold is one of a half-dozen Democratic seats that appear likely to be "in play" in November. Feingold's popularity among Wisconsin voters has faded in recent weeks. Surveys from SurveyUSA and the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling show that his approval rating has slipped below 50 percent, and that a growing number of Wisconsin residents are "undecided" on whether they approve or not. Feingold, in office since 1993, has no Democratic primary opponents. He has, however, been both fundraising and spending copiously in advance of what is expected to be a tight November race. Feingold is among this year's top fundraisers, with $13.7 million in receipts, of which he has spent $11.4 million this election cycle. 

Ron Johnson, the owner of a Wisconsin-based plastics company, and David Westlake, a small-business owner, have emerged as the top contenders on the GOP ballot. An August 25 poll from Rasmussen Reports showed both to be closely matched with Feingold, though Johnson appears to have an edge over Westlake. Forty-seven percent of likely voters surveyed said they would support Johnson in a race against Feingold, who had the support of 46 percent of respondents ( a statistical tie). Westlake had a weaker showing, with 40 percent to Feingold's 47 percent, but the 4-percent margin of error shows him to be statistically close to Feingold as well.

Johnson is one of the top self-funded candidates of the 2010 election cycle, and has loaned his campaign $4.4 million of the total $6.3 million it has taken in thus far. These totals dwarf Westlake's fundraising numbers. Westlake reports $78,363 in campaign receipts. If Westlake is victorious on Tuesday, he will have some ground to make up in facing Feingold. As of August 25, Westlake had only $1,500 in his campaign account. Johnson, meanwhile, reported $1.6 million still in his coffers. 

Many election-watchers currently expect the race in Wisconsin's Seventh District to be the state's most competitive U.S. House race this year. The district's current representative, Democrat David Obey, is retiring after 42 years in Congress. Tuesday's primaries will feature two candidates from each party hoping to compete in what could be a hotly contested general election. 

On the Republican ballot, District Attorney Sean Duffy may be best known to some voters for being a cast member on a past season of MTV reality show The Real World. He is battling farmer and businessman Dan Mielke. Mielke has attacked Duffy for his support of civil unions, as well as his reality TV past, saying that The Real World "is known for its promotion of a lifestyle that goes directly against sound moral guidelines." Mielke is not the only one on the defensive—the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already spent $50,000 on advertisements opposing him. 

Despite these attacks, Duffy has managed to accrue a substantially larger campaign warchest, with $1.2 million in receipts, compared to Mielke's $500,000. Duffy's $700,000 in the bank as of August 25 also far surpasses Mielke's $24,000. 

On the Democratic side, the race is between state Sen. Julie Lassa and real estate broker Don Raihala. Lassa is promoting her work on Wisconsin economic issues, including her work penning a job creation package that passed the Wisconsin state legislature and became law. Raihala is taking a more humble approach to campaigning, billing himself as "pretty much just your typical average Wisconsin guy." Lassa also espouses more liberal views than Raihala. While the state senator has praised the health care reform legislation and is endorsed by pro-choice organization EMILY's List, Raihala's views are more conservative. He is pro-life and furthermore opposed to cap-and-trade legislation, as well as the health insurance mandate in the new healthcare reform law.