Don't Count Russ Feingold Out Yet

The Democrats' maverick senator, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, surprised many when he finished a national listening tour by pulling his hat from the ring of 2008 presidential candidates, claiming he lacked the fire in the belly.

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The Democrats' maverick senator, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, surprised many when he finished a national listening tour by pulling his hat from the ring of 2008 presidential candidates, claiming he lacked the fire in the belly.

Well, don't count him out yet,—at least as a provocative vice presidential candidate. That's because a new biography paints the coauthor of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law as one of the leaders of the progressive movement spreading in the nation as activists look for lawmakers who don't play politics safe.

Feingold, out next week, opens with a gripping clash between the leading character and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as she looked for loopholes around the McCain-Feingold law. In a closed-door meeting in 2002, Feingold objected to her efforts.

"You're not living in the real world," shouts Clinton. "Senator, I do live in the real world, and I'm doing just fine by it," responds Feingold, who made it known that he was moved to push the campaign finance law forward after former President Clinton larded up campaign coffers with foreign contributions and checks from guests in the Lincoln Bedroom.

Author Sanford Horwitt, an independent biographer, longtime reviewer, and speechwriter, uses that scene to paint Feingold as the reformer among "real-world" Democrats and somebody willing to bring new ideas to the table. "Feingold represents the progressive side of the Democratic divide more clearly and authentically than any other politician on the national stage," says Horwitt. The product of four years of work and interviews, the book will very likely be used by Feingold fans to make the case for his being considered vice presidential material. But clearly not with Clinton. Some suggest he'd be a good match for Al Gore if he runs.

Horwitt also reveals a conversation that an unnamed political friend had with Feingold in which the senator was warned that his presidential campaign effort would be thwarted by the Democratic establishment. "They're going to stop you," Horwitt says Feingold was told. By "they," pens the author, "he meant the Washington Democratic establishment, which didn't appreciate Feingold's independent thinking and passionate commitment to progressive politics. Feingold laughed and said, well, if he won Iowa and New Hampshire, '"it would be a hell of a couple of weeks."

Even if he isn't picked as a veep nominee, Horwitt says that the 54-year-old senator "represents a serious, genuine alternative to his party's establishment."

Well, maybe not all that serious. Just consider these tidbits we learn about the nerdy senator: As a high schooler, he drank some spiked punch at a house party and hid a bag of Cheetos in the dryer. Now, when he returns to the house, he brings the owner a bag of Cheetos for old times' sake. Also, he's a crummy golfer, once shooting a 102 while paired with former President Clinton. And "he's a yapper" on the course, though his game has improved.