15 October 2010

Is Feingold a Deceiver or Simply Delusional?

Sen. Russ Feingold (L) & Ron Johnson (R) meet in 1st debate

During the first debate between candidates for the Senate seat in Wisconsin, Senator Russ Feingold madean interesting appeal–he was gunning for support from the Tea Party.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) had an interesting appeal during his debate with Republican opponent Ron Johnson.  The three termed Democrat tried to engraciate himself with those in the Tea Party.  Feingold pointed out that he was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act.  Feingold was proud of his maverick anti-Wall Street stances and his opposition to Banking Reform in the mid 1990s.  Feingold is also banking that the energized outsiders would appreciate his conservative stance on gun control and his aversion to budgetary earmarks.

Feingold has tried traditional tactics for liberals.  He has stoked class warfare.  During the debate, Feingold noted that he was the only Senator who was not a millionaire and that there should be some economic diversity in the upper chamber.  His ads have tried to his opponent as a mean millionaire who is trying to take away childrens’ health care, womens’ “choice” about killing an unwanted infant and taking away our health care.

It is hard to appeal to voters in a change election as being an outsider even if you fashion yourself as a self-styled maverick when you have been in office since the 1992 election.  Feingold  faciley aligned himself with Tea Party types against Wall Street reform, but he conveniently fails to mention that he did not think that it went far enough which is a far cry from conservatives who would like to return to some semblance of capitalism.  Feingold’s quixotic stand against the passage of the Patriot Act might win plaudits from some Libertarians segments of the Tea Party. But the opposition to the Patriot Act seemed less about protecting civil liberties when you consider his staunch opposition to any military action against Iraq.

The two loadstones that sink any Tea Party support for Feingold is campaign finance reform and the government takeover of health care.   No Tea Party activist will forget that the law that limited free speech before an election which indirectly aided unions and liberal groups was named the McCain Feingold act.  The Health Reform Act stokes much of the animus against incumbents this election.  Feingold was one of the only Democrat in America that ran a pro health care ad as part of his re-election campaign.  Feingold’s outspoken support on Obamacare should make his Tea Party appeal DOA.

Wisconsin has a history of being a progressive state.  And Feingold’s voting record certainly has followed that tradition, garnering 90% from the ACLU and 100% from environmentalists.  Polls suggest that Feingold is in serious trouble by first time candidate Republican Senate candidate Ron Johnson.  Feingold has been down in polls since July.  Johnson has been consistently leading by an average of 7 points.

But Senate races in the land of Cheeseheads often is personality driven.  When Feingold was the surprise winner of 1992 Senate Democrat primary, Feingold was able to break above the fray by using humor while opponents bashed him.  One infamous ad  had Elvis coming back from the grave to give his imprimatur to Feingold.  Another spot showed Feingold opening up a closet and saying “No skeletons.”  This amiable, guy-next-door persona helped him defeat incumbent Senator Bob Kasten, Jr. (R-WI) in the general election.

Ron Johnson truly cultivated his outsider appeal by admitted that he had never been between the beltways until he started his Senate run.  His stances about being skeptical about anthropogenic climate change, being against big government and opposed to the behemoth Health Care legislation endears himself to the smart government country class conservatives that comprise much of the Tea Party.  But Johnson's television ad that seems like a homage to the UPS blackboard campaign catches the zeitgeist and defines his persona.

Johnson sold his virtues and stressed that he was an outsider in one felled swoop.  He was not overtly negative but pointed out the nearly three score of Senators who were lawyers, but none who came from manufacturing and only one from accounting.  The partisan charges of being an out of touch millionaire do not stick with this sort of a plain spoken persona.

While I do not think that Senator Feingold is simply delusional, I think that he is deceiving himself to think that his battlefield conversion to conservatism will resound among the electorate.

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