Friday nights “are reserved for fish fries, high-school football and recovering from the workweek.” All of which “suggests the television audience for the first debate” this p.m. between Sen. Russ Feingold (D) and businessman Ron Johnson (R) “is not expected to capture a big audience.”
The “consensus is that Feingold,” will “be aggressive in defending his own three-term record in the Senate.” Feingold “also will be expected to question Johnson’s stands on the major issues, including the state of the economy, Social Security and the health care law.”
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As for Johnson, “it will be” his first opportunity “to introduce himself on live TV to voters. He will make his case that voters want a fresh face” in DC (Walker, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/7).
A source familiar with Johnson’s debate preparations: “This is going to be a chance for voters to see a politician who has been part of the problem in Washington. His spending policies have done nothing to create jobs here. Ron’s going to make this case highlighting his real world experience” (Hotline reporting, 10/8).
Johnson said 10/7 that he wanted to win “by a surprising margin” in order to send a message to DC to cut spending and get the nation’s debtload under control. Johnson made an appearance on Charlie Sykes’ WTMJ-AM (Radio 620) show. Johnson: “I want to win this thing. I want to win this thing by a surprising margin.”
10/7, Johnson’s campaign “launched an all-day” online fundraising campaign. Johnson said the fundraising was a way to tap into the Tea Party movement and enlist supporters who have never been involved in politics before (Walker, “All Politics,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/7).
Mmm, Double Down
Feingold “is doubling-down” on a “proven strategy in his effort to survive” the rising GOP tide in WI: Get “troves of young people to the polls, and do it early.”
The “metric Feingold’s camp wants to meet is daunting”: Match the record 15% who came out early for the ‘08 pres. race. That amounts to nearly 300K voters — a “number that’s nearly twice the amount of in-person early voting that occurred” during the ‘06 midterm election.
Feingold: You don’t have to have everybody who voted for Obama to turnout. Even if it’s 15 percent of those who voted for the first time for Obama come out, these Republicans and [Ron] Johnson are going to find that they’re going to lose.”
Johnson “doesn’t appear to be fazed by his opponent’s aggressive early voting operation.” Johnson: “I think it’s just absentee. I don’t think there’s a big concerted effort here for early voting” (His spokesperson later clarified his comment as a comparative reference to Feingold’s efforts, stressing that “we have hundreds of volunteers calling these voters.”)
There “is some evidence to justify Feingold’s campus gambit.” Youth turnout in WI “was second highest in the nation” during ‘06, according to statistics compiled by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. While the nationwide turnout rate for those between the ages of 18 and 29 was 26% during the last midterm, in WI it reached 40% (Catanese, Politico, 10/7).
The WI GOP “is alleging” Feingold is soft on terrorists — specifically Osama bin Laden. In an interview with WKOW 27 News in Madison, Feingold was asked about what ought to be the fate of bin Laden. Feingold: “I would prefer to see him get the ultimate punishment in a battlefield setting.” Asked whether a captured bin Laden “deserves to be executed for his crimes,” Feingold responded “he deserves to be executed for his crimes, but I am a person who does not believe we should use execution as a means of our justice system.”
That’s “not a new stand” by Feingold, and “it’s one which would appear to puts him on the same page as” AG Eric Holder and the DoJ. But WI GOP chair Reince Priebus calls that position outrageous (Hague, Wisconsin Radio Network, 10/6).
Gov. Scott Walker’s decisive victory in last night’s Wisconsin gubernatorial recall served as a telling benchmark for the presidential election, suggesting that Mitt Romney stands a good chance of competing with President Obama in the Democratic-leaning Rust Belt states. Next week’s special election in Arizona, to replace former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, will lend equal insight on the congressional state of play for November.
The race on Tuesday pits Democrat Ron Barber, Giffords’s former district director who was injured in last year’s Tucson shooting, against Republican Jesse Kelly, an outspoken tea party activist and military veteran who lost to Giffords in the 2010 midterms. The battle is being waged in a Republican-leaning Tucson district, but one filled with the type of voters Democrats will need to win over to maintain control of the Senate and be competitive in the House — seniors and business-friendly independents.
For those expecting a polite, above-the-fray campaign given the circumstances surrounding the race, think again. This special election became a highly negative, personal campaign precisely because it’s serving to test-drive the themes that both Democrats and Republicans are planning to utilize across the battleground map. The political stakes are so high that civility is once again taking a back seat to politics as usual.
This special election provides a major test of the emerging congressional Democratic message for 2012: Republicans have become beholden to the tea party and want to decimate the social safety net through cuts to entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. In Kelly, the party has a perfect foil. In 2010, the former Marine ran a race that relied on conservative straight talk at the expense of his political standing. Giffords was one of the few vulnerable House Democrats who won reelection, because voters viewed Kelly as too far to the right.
Kelly has undergone something of a makeover for his second bid. But Democrats aren’t letting voters forget about his past statements, airing a barrage of negative campaign ads accusing him of wanting to eliminate Social Security and Medicare. One of the latest spots, commissioned by the House Majority super PAC, revisits his heated rhetoric against Giffords during last election cycle.
Republicans, meanwhile, see an equally promising opportunity with this special election, and believe they have a fighting chance to win a seat that under normal circumstances should have been very tough to pick up. They view this race as a sign that the political environment is turning so poisonous for President Obama and down-ballot Democrats that even a hometown hero won’t be able to hang onto the seat that his old boss won under difficult circumstances in 2010.
Internal polling from both sides shows that Obama is deeply unpopular in the district. The National Republican Congressional Committee has been inundating the district with ads accusing Barber of wanting to “rubber-stamp the Obama-[Nancy] Pelosi agenda.” The national party brand is so toxic that Barber wouldn’t even say he was voting for Obama at a recent debate, before clarifying his support later.
Furthermore, Republicans believe they’ve identified a way to inoculate themselves on the entitlement attacks — simply repeat the argument that Obama cut Medicare benefits himself with his unpopular health care law. After suffering a stinging defeat last year in a New York special election over entitlements, the national campaign committee retooled and utilized that message to comfortably win a Republican-leaning Nevada House seat. This race is the rubber match for that message — a win here would signal that the Obama and Democratic attacks painting the GOP as extreme on entitlements might not fly as easily as expected. Republican campaign officials say that despite Kelly’s vulnerabilities, seniors remain solidly in the GOP camp, according to their internal polling.
There’s also little doubt that the latest dismal jobs numbers will play a role in the race, even as it’s unclear who will bear the brunt of the impact. Obama stands to take a hit over the bad economic news, but will voters take out their frustrations on the president’s party, or the conservative GOP House opposition? A Kelly victory would signal that down-ballot Democrats may be in as much trouble as Obama, given the economic downturn. If Barber wins, expect a more level playing field for control of the Senate and House.
Early voting started on May 17, and while more registered Republicans than Democrats have cast ballots, the breakdown so far is encouraging for Barber given the large GOP registration advantage in the district. Both sides believe the early results show the race is going down to the wire. Giffords is participating in a last-minute get-out-the-vote concert this week for Barber, but hasn’t yet appeared in any advertising on his behalf.
Special elections don’t always predict the outcome of future elections, but they can offer telling clues about the future political environment. That adage is doubly significant this month. After Walker’s win Tuesday night, a Kelly victory would be a sign that 2012 could very well be another wave election for the Republicans.
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