• WisPolitics

Sunday, October 31, 2010

 11:03 AM 

Johnson: 'I will never be a politician'

Ten days before the election that could make him a member of what has been called the world’s most exclusive club, Ron Johnson is introducing himself to the people who would send him there.

On this day he's on a swing through western Wisconsin, one of the few pockets of the state that hasn't been saturated by his campaign’s colossal media buy.

About 45 people show up at 7:30 on a Saturday morning for the “mayor’s breakfast” at the Best Western hotel.

The mayor is Dean Knudson, a local veterinarian running to replace retiring state Rep. Kitty Rhodes, who's also at the breakfast.

Johnson, who describes himself as a very private person who will “never be a politician,'' mingles comfortably with the crowd, introducing himself and engaging them one-on-one. As an icebreaker, he passes out cards to each with a holographic image of him and a flag that changes from a Wisconsin flag to a U.S. flag when the card is tilted.

“That’s our plastic,” he tells them with pride.

See more from WisPolitics' "On the campaign trail with Ron Johnson."

Friday, October 29, 2010

 2:46 PM 

Industry PACs anticipating Johnson victory

Ask any seasoned political player in Washington about the status of Sen. Russ Feingold’s re-election bid, and he or she may or may not tell you that they think the Middleton Democrat is headed for defeat on Nov. 2.

But a review of political action committee contributions in the Wisconsin Senate race makes clear that Washington expects Feingold to lose to wealthy GOP Oshkosh businessman Ron Johnson.

Industry PACs are notoriously stingy when it comes to donating to candidates challenging incumbent senators, regardless of political party affiliation. Individual senators can wield an enormous amount of power, and business interests are loathe to end up on the wrong side of that power.

But industry PACs have been giving generously to Johnson in October, a telling sign that these PACs and their Washington advisors don’t expect Feingold to return to Capitol Hill when the 112th Congress convenes in January. The detailed are in the 48-hour contribution reports that all candidates are required to file to the Federal Election Commission at this point in the campaign.

On Oct. 16, Johnson reported five business PAC donations, including $2,500 from RJ Reynolds; $5,000 from PricewaterhouseCoopers; and $5,000 from the CEMEX Inc. Employees PAC. On Oct. 19, Johnson reported another five industry PAC contributions, including $2,000 from the American Forest and Paper Association; $5,000 from the Associated Builders and Contractors; and $5,000 from Humana.

Also, On Oct. 21 and Oct. 23, Johnson reported six more PAC contributions, including $1,000 from the Milwaukee Police Association; $2,500 from Appleton-based Unigroup; $5,000 from Aetna; $5,000 from Ernst & Young; $2,000 from Farmers Group and $1,000 from the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association.

Of course, the Feingold campaign has been far from dormant.

On Oct. 20, the senator reported a $1,000 contribution from Milwaukee-based AO Smith Corp.

On Oct. 21, the Democrat reported donations of $5,000 from the Michigan Democratic Party and $1,000 from the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association. On Oct. 22, Feingold reported contributions of $5,000 from the leadership PAC of Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and another $5,000 from Oregon Dem Sen. Jeff Merkley’s Opportunity and Renewal leadership PAC. Also on Oct. 22, Feingold received donations of $2,500 from the Writer’s Guild of America West PAC and $1,000 from the Veterans Alliance for Security and Democracy PAC.

Additionally, the senator reported bundled fundraising. The Council for a Livable World raised $8,782 on Feingold’s behalf, while J Street PAC raised him $11,228. J Street is a left-leaning organization that views itself as a liberal alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

- David M. Drucker

 1:59 PM 

Tensions rise in 3rd CD race

A La Crosse TV station caught a testy exchange between U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and GOP challenger Dan Kapanke following a debate Tuesday night.

In the footage Kind refuses to shake Kapanke's hand following the debate and tells the Republican, "That's a new low."

The exchange follows allegations thrown at Kind that a staff member demanded campaign contributions from Eau Claire doctors before the La Crosse Dem would meet with them to discuss a bill. Kind has vehemently denied the allegations.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has been sending emails to media with a YouTube video link, though they leave out the full context of the story which mentions Kapanke has also had to answer ethical questions during the race.

 11:52 AM 

CRP: $10.8M spent by outside groups in Wis. congressional races so far

Outside groups have spent at least $10.8 million on federal races in Wisconsin, with backers of conservative messages outspending liberal-leaning groups, according to the latest numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group broke out what spending it could into pro-Dem/anti-Republican and pro-GOP/anti-Dem. But CRP noted on its site that some spending by outside groups couldn't be broken down.

Of the money that could be identified as benefiting one side or the other, just under $3.8 million has been spent opposing Democrats, while $1.2 million has been spent backing Republicans.

On the other side, $2.8 million has been spent against GOP candidates with $333,000 more supporting Dems.

The state's U.S. Senate race was the most expensive for outside groups, with nearly $3.9 million spent. OpenSecrets.org lists over $2.2 million directed either in favor of Ron Johnson or against U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, compared to just over $50,000 spent either against Johnson or for Feingold.

Outside groups spent in three state congressional races, with the open 7th CD the most expensive at nearly $3.4 million spent. Groups spent just over $2.5 million in the 8th CD and just over $1 million in the 3rd. All of the money attributed for or against candidates in the 3rd CD favored Republican state Sen. Dan Kapanke in his race against veteran Dem U.S. Rep. Ron Kind.

CRP reported today that outside spending in the current election cycle has eclipsed the 2004 level, when the presidency was on the ballot.

See more at OpenSecrets.org

Thursday, October 28, 2010

 6:05 PM 

Durbin swings through state to support Feingold

Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin made a swing through Wisconsin today to support his colleague Feingold and give “pep talks” to supporters.

“I think the world of Russ,” says Durbin, the Senate majority whip who admits Feingold’s independent streak at times “drives me crazy.”

“The man is a person of principle. He is very bright and digs in to some of the toughest issues and takes them on,” Durbin said in an interview with WisPolitics.

Durbin says claims from national pundits that Feingold’s maverick streak alienated him from the party aren’t true. He points out that President Obama and Vice President Biden have been in state to campaign for him, as has Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

“We’re all in for Russ,” he says. “I really think he makes a difference in the U.S. Senate.”

Durbin acknowledged this has been a difficult cycle for Democrats, as mid-term elections typically are for the president’s party.

“It’s a fact of political life,” he said. “But we’re finding it’s a neck-and-neck situation, and we’re working hard.”

Durbin was in Medford this morning for a candidate event, attended a student roundtable at UW-Stevens Point, and did GOTV rallies and phone banks at Feingold offices in Stevens Point and Madison.

Juston Johnson, campaign manager for GOP Senate candidate Ron Johnson, used the visit to get a dig in on Feingold, saying it underscored his allegiance to Washington's liberal agenda.

"Russ Feingold's liberal allies must have heard he was looking for a lunch date and flew out to help," Johnson said, referencing a Feingold ad that says he has a lot of lonely lunches in Washington because of his independence.

 4:57 PM 

Feingold: AFF complaint 'frivolous'

U.S. Sen. Feingold called "frivolous" an FEC complaint filed against him for violating his own campaign finance rules by using the word "support" instead of "approved" in an ad.

The conservative group American Future Fund filed the complaint. An ad called "Whiteboard" release by the Feingold campaign this week begins with the candidate on-camera saying, "I'm Russ Feingold, and I support this message." AFF claims that McCain-Feingold explicitly requires the use of the word "approved."

The ad does include a written message at the end that says "approved by Russ Feingold."

AFF said Feingold "has no right to disregard the requirements of his own law."

"They're wrong. I know a little something about the bill. It's a silly argument," he said in a media availability after a roundtable on stem cell research this morning.

According to Feingold's campaign, the FEC regulations state that a TV ad "must include a statement that identifies the candidate and states that he or she has approved the communication." The FEC regulations then provide examples of acceptable disclaimer language for the spoken disclaimer requirement, but explicitly state that "they are not the only allowable statements."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

 10:07 AM 

NRCC ad rips Kind as 'rubber stamp'

The National Republican Congressional Committee has extended its reach in Wisconsin into the 3rd Congressional District race with a TV ad that ties U.S. Rep. Ron Kind to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The NRCC has been running ads attacking U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, and Stevens Point state Sen. Julie Lassa, who is running in the 7th CD. But Kind, D-La Crosse, had been considered a much tougher target for Republicans in his race against GOP state Sen. Dan Kapanke. Still, outside groups like the 60-Plus Association have been going after Kind on TV, and the seat has recently been added to some national watch lists as the playing field in the House has expanded dramatically.

The ad opens with an image of Kind at a podium next to Pelosi. A voiceover says, "For years Congressman Ron Kind was listening to Wisconsin. But since Nancy Pelosi took over, he's become a rubber stamp."

The narrator says Kind voted for cap and trade, the Wall Street bailout, the "wasteful stimulus bill" and "Obama's health care bill" as a rubber stamp imprints "Kind-Yes" in red ink.

"Ron Kind. He's not our congressman anymore. He works for her," as the stamp leaves an imprint of Kind and Pelosi.

 9:20 AM 

Doctor in Kind controversy testified for conservative group

One of the doctors accusing U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of pay-to-play tactics testified on behalf of the 60 Plus Association at a Senate hearing on the federal health care reform bill.

The charges leveled against Kind were detailed in a column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The allegations include that a Kind staffer told the doctors they had to pony up a campaign contribution to get Kind to speak to them about a bill they felt would be detrimental to their hospital.

The alleged incident happened more than three years ago. The Kind aide who made the demand for contributions is not identified by the doctors.

One of the doctors who contacted the JS, Michael Smith, testified in September before Republican Members of the Senate Finance Committee on behalf of the 60 Plus Association, which has spent millions on ads bashing Kind.

Kind's Republican opponent, state Sen. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, said in a statement from his campaign the allegations are disturbing if true.

"A Congressman is the servant of the people, not the other way around," Kapanke said. "If I am elected to Congress, I can guarantee that a constituent meeting with me will not come with a bill due at the end."

Kind supporters say that the allegations are a coordinated effort coming right before the election to muddy the waters on ethics issues, pointing out that Kapanke has had to answer his own ethics questions.

Kind said in a statement, "This claim is a lie and an attack on my character. It is blatantly false and politically motivated. I know the people of western Wisconsin will see this for what it is -– dirty politics."

Monday, October 25, 2010

 1:01 PM 

Feingold raises more than Johnson in first two weeks of October

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold raised more than a half million dollars more than GOP opponent Ron Johnson from Oct. 1 to Oct. 13.

Feingold, D-Middleton, received contributions of nearly $1.25 million over the period and is reporting nearly $2.46 million cash on hand, according to his campaign.

Johnson, owner of an Oshkosh plastics manufacturing business, reported raising nearly $740,000 in the period. Johnson has nearly $2.38 million cash on hand after spending $1.68 million over the period, according to his campaign finance report.

 9:36 AM 

8th CD candidates talk health care, Social Security on 'UpFront'

8th CD U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen defended his votes for the health care and stimulus bills during an appearance on “UpFront with Mike Gousha” while promising to protect Social Security if re-elected. Kagen also said he'd consider raising the cap on how much income is subject to Social Security taxes to shore up the program.

His GOP opponent Reid Ribble, also appearing on the show, said he’d consider keeping some portions of the health care overhaul and sought to clarify some past negative comments on Social Security.

Kagen said he has no regrets over his votes for the health care bill or the stimulus package.

Kagen, an Appleton allergist, said he regularly saw patients denied coverage by insurance companies because they had pre-existing conditions. But now, he says, insurance companies can no longer discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions or cancel coverage because someone gets sick. Families are also no longer in danger of going broke because a child gets sick.

Kagen also said the nation’s unemployment rate could have shot up to 16 percent or 18 percent if Congress hadn't approved the stimulus package.

“Doing nothing was not an option,” he said on the news magazine show produced in conjunction with WisPolitics and broadcast statewide.

Ribble was asked about comments he made in an interview last year saying Social Security was never intended to be a legitimate program and that it was created in the 1930s as a way to buy votes.

Ribble, a roofing contractor, said President Roosevelt “was pretty good at the patronage game.” Still, he said the program has become ingrained in the nation’s psyche and a promise has been made to those paying into the system. But as well as protecting the promises made to seniors, lawmakers also have to address the program’s future for those like his 4-year-old grandson to ensure it’s there when they retire.

Ribble criticized Kagen, saying the Appleton Dem has failed to introduce a single bill during his four years in office to shore up the program.

“That doesn’t work for my grandson, and I want to protect him as well as seniors,” Ribble said.

Ribble added he would like to see the “personalization” of Social Security where the program moves away from current funding mechanism where workers pay into the system to benefit those who have retired before them. Instead, he wants to see workers paying into the system to cover their own benefits. He didn’t say how he wanted to accomplish that.

Ribble said he sees some good in the health care bill Kagen supported, including the provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health plans until they are 26. Still, he said he’s leaning toward working to repeal the law because of the more than 100 new federal bureaucracies created under the legislation, which he said it still being written.

“Once the regulators take over, it’s not going to look anything like it does today,” he said.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

 10:11 PM 

Feingold tells seniors, students they can prove the polls wrong

It’s early on a Thursday morning in La Crosse, just more than two weeks before the fall election.

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold is at a diner called Ardie’s meeting with a group of 10 senior citizens to discuss Social Security, the federal health care reform bill and its effect on Medicare. As the seniors sip coffee and pick at giant sweet rolls, the Middleton Democrat lays out what the bill does and doesn’t do -- that it fills the donut hole in Medicare Part B by 2020, that it extends the solvency of the Medicare program by a dozen years, and, most importantly, that the health care bill doesn’t cut any guaranteed benefits to seniors.

“It’s a scare tactic to suggest it does,” he emphasizes.

Feingold gives remarks for 10 minutes, then he listens to the seniors concerns, answers their questions. The tone is relaxed and conversational. Feingold appears to enjoy the tough questions on complicated topics, and the seniors appear to like the exchange.

It’s the type of meeting the three-term incumbent has held thousands of times in communities across Wisconsin, most famously at his 72 listening sessions every year in each county of the state.

National and state pundits describe this race as the fight of his political life, but if the weight of a tight race is bearing down on him it’s not apparent. Those who have known him over the years and watched him work up close say he thrives under pressure.

“He’s one of the most focused people you’d ever work for,” said one former campaign hand. “He’s cool, calm, collected and driven.”

See more from WisPolitics' "On the campaign trail with Russ Feingold."

Friday, October 22, 2010

 8:26 PM 

Kind spends most among House candidates in pre-general election period

A tougher-than-expected re-election race has forced western Wisconsin Dem Congressman Ron Kind to blow all other state congressional candidates away in campaign spending during the latest campaign finance reporting period.

According to reports due Thursday to the Federal Election Commission, Kind spent $541,664 during the period spanning Oct. 1-13 -- well more than the roughly $300,000 reported by the second-highest spender, 7th CD Dem candidate and Stevens Point state Sen. Julie Lassa.

Kind reported raising $99,229 during the pre-general election period and had $354,653 cash on hand. GOP opponent Dan Kapanke raised a similar amount over the period -- $97,077 -- but spent a comparatively small $117,108 and had just $18,494 cash on hand.

These reports are close on the heels of quarterly money figures that came out last week. See last Friday's Report for more.

Other Wisconsin fundraising totals include:

1st CD: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan leads the Wisconsin delegation in both money raised during the first-half-of-October period and cash on hand. The Janesville Republican raised $202,839, spent $113,736 and reported a warchest of more than $2.8 million. He was the only member of the delegation to report a seven-figure cash on hand total. Ryan faces Racine Dem John Heckenlively, who hasn't reported any fundraising activity to the FEC.

2nd CD: U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, raised $35,878, spent $14,571 and had $780,298 cash on hand in her race against heavy underdog Chad Lee. The Mt. Horeb small businessman reported $15,428 raised and $11,709 spent, with just $9,352 cash on hand.

4th CD: In the state's most partisan-leaning district, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, reported the lowest fundraising total by an incumbent during the period with $12,795. She reported spending $11,215, with $63,232 cash on hand. Milwaukee Republican Dan Sebring raised $2,335 and spent $4,226; he had $2,617 cash on hand.

5th CD: Longtime Menomonee Falls Republican Jim Sensenbrenner reported raising $19,605 and spending $19,820. He had a cash balance of $398,982. Dem opponent Todd Kolosso, also of Menomonee Falls, hasn't reported any fundraising activity.

6th CD: U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, reported the second-highest cash balance among the delegation, with $926,891. He raised $30,651 and spent $44,065 during the period. His opponent, Joseph Kallas of Princeton, reported a campaign balance of negative-$1,928 after marginal expenditures and disbursements in the period.

7th CD: Lassa, D-Stevens Point, outspent GOP opponent Sean Duffy during the period but trailed him for cash on hand heading into the final weeks of the campaign. She raised $100,122, spent $300,128 and had $138,991 in the bank. Duffy, of Ashland, reported $578,903 cash on hand after raising $139,756 and spending $206,367.

8th CD: U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen also outspent his opponent despite lagging in fundraising and cash on hand. The Appleton Dem raised $61,040, spent $263,880 and had $190,464 in the bank. De Pere Republican Reid Ribble reported a warchest of $339,455; he raised $144,494 and spent $123,666 over the period.

 2:23 PM 

Franken says Feingold and other races could be as close as his

U.S. Sen. Al Franken writes in a DSCC fundraising email that he doesn't want to see his Dem colleagues, including U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, go through months of recounts like he did following the 2008 election.

"Take it from a guy who won his race by 312 votes - the five minutes it'll take you to make a contribution to the DSCC could make the difference between winning or losing in any of the 15 races that are still up for grabs," Franken, D-Minn., writes.

Feingold, D-Middleton, has told the DSCC not to run ads on his behalf in Wisconsin. Most public polls have shown Feingold trailing Republican Ron Johnson, but Feingold says his internal polling shows the race is even.

The DSCC has set a goal of $550,000 by Sunday, and not meeting that could mean "some races are going to be left behind."

"Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold, Patty Murray: Any of these great Democrats could end up in a race as close as mine. Any of these 15 races could swing the Senate majority," Franken said.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

 4:38 PM 

Feingold slams Johnson over lack of details

GOP U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson said this morning he doesn't have specific details on how to solve the nation's issues, instead comparing himself to a promising job candidate who has the potential to learn on the job.

Speaking at UW-Milwaukee, Johnson repeatedly stressed his manufacturing background and said his strengths are a willingness to listen to experts and a drive to reach consensus.

“I don't believe this election is about details. I really don't,” Johnson said. “I've met with people in 60 counties and done 500 personal events, and my approach is to convey to people who I am, explain my manufacturing background, and then as honestly as I can, let people know what my philosophy is."

Dem Sen. Russ Feingold, speaking immediately after Johnson, ripped his opponent for failing to provide details.

"I will be very specific about where I want to cut spending and how I will create jobs," Feingold said.

The back-to-back hourlong forums were co-sponsored by UWM, Milwaukee Public Radio station WUWM and WisPolitics.com.

See more WisPolitics coverage here.

 8:03 AM 

Kagen, Ribble almost even in Hill poll

U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen and GOP challenger Reid Ribble are almost even in a new poll done for The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C.

Forty-five percent of respondents backed Ribble, a roofing contractor, while 44 percent supported Kagen, who’s in his second term. Ten percent were undecided.

The poll is much closer than other surveys released publicly, and some national pundits have started to rank it as a “lean Republican” race.

The phone interviews of 415 likely voters in the 8th CD were conducted for The Hill by Penn Schoen Berland. It was done Oct. 12-15 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

See more (8th CD info starts on page 71):

 7:59 AM 

Kind, Kapanke trade jabs in 3rd CD debate

The first 3rd Congressional District debate Tuesday night had the feeling of a tag team match, with incumbent U.S. Rep. Ron Kind fending off shots from Republican Dan Kapanke from the right and independent Michael Krsiean from the far right.

The debate at UW-Platteville’s Pioneer Student Center drew a roomful of students and community members who saw some sparks fly between Kind, D-La Crosse, and his challengers. The debate was sponsored by the university and the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Kind said that $1.2 million has been spent on ads by independent groups in “a sinister attempt to try to buy an election thinking western Wisconsin is for sale.” Kind said powerful special interests in Washington are out to knock him off because of his independence, telling the audience he was found to be the fifth most independent member of Congress.

“They know that I’m not kowtowing to their agenda,” he said, adding that he stood up to powerful Wall Street banks and the insurance industry.

Kind said the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has wreaked havoc on the campaign finance system, and said strong reform of the system is needed.

Kapanke, a state senator from La Crosse, said Kind has doubled him in spending on the race, and the independent expenditure groups are merely exercising their First Amendment rights. He disputed Kind’s claims of independence.

“He votes with (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi 93 percent of the time,” Kapanke said.

See more WisPolitics coverage here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

 12:59 PM 

7th CD one of Politico's 12 hottest House races

Politico lists Wisconsin's 7th CD as one of the 12 hottest House races in the country.

Here's what the site has to say on the race:

"State Senator Julie Lassa (D) faces district attorney and former Real World cast-member Sean Duffy (R) in a barn-burner for the open House seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Dave Obey in northwestern Badger State. Duffy was the target of the DCCC’s first independent expenditure ad of 2010, in a sign of how high this district ranks on Democratic priority lists."

 7:01 AM 

Baldwin, Lee debate foreign policy in first debate

Dem U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin and GOP challenger Chad Lee sparred over illegal immigration in their first debate Sunday, with the incumbent saying a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border is not an adequate solution.

Lee, who said his wife is from southern Texas, said when he’s visited the border, it’s “felt like a war zone.”

Asked about the fence during Sunday’s debate, Baldwin responded by saying that the system “is broken,” and “tweaking one part alone is not going to help.”

“It ignores the fact that we need people to provide the security we need,” she said about the proposed fence, pointing out that since she has been in Congress, “the amount of border patrols has tripled.”

“I believe that there is a pathway between the extremes of the beliefs of the pathway to immigration: acknowledge the illegal act, pay a fine, and get to the back of the line to become a citizen,” Baldwin said.

After Lee told the story about his visits to the border in response to the illegal immigration query, Baldwin prodded him to “answer the specific questions.”

He responded that the legal process toward immigration “has become so tedious and drawn-out that it can take a decade to happen,” and people “prefer” the simpler, illegal route of crossing the border undocumented.

“If we can streamline the process, I don’t think the problem will be as big as it has been in the past,” he said.

The debate at UW-Madison’s Grainger School of Business was billed as the 2nd Congressional District Global Affairs Forum and sponsored by a number of domestic and international student and state groups.

In his openeng statement, Lee challenged Baldwin to a later debate on domestic affairs, pointing out that Sunday's event on foreign affairs was the only forum she had agreed to attend with him. Baldwin ignored his request.

The questions focused on foreign policy, which she said she has been "heavily" involved in throughout her 12 years in office, rebuting Lee's claim that she has done "almost nothing" in the area.

Lee also emphasized the importance of putting “America first” when discussing the role of foreign aid distribution.

“If we are sending foreign aid to other countries and we can’t pay our own bills, that makes us ineffective,” he said.

Baldwin countered Lee’s sentiment by explaining that foreign aid means creating American products and jobs to send overseas.

“Foreign aid does take care of Americans first, which is why I am such a strong supporter of it,” she said, describing is as “a win-win for our economy here at home.”

Lee closed by highlighting his past as a businessman, saying it will help him be independent, and that “I do not have a dream of being a lifelong politician. I am doing this because I think we can do better. I want to make sure the government doesn’t get in the way of your dreams.”

Baldwin responded by emphasized that she, too, has been “very independent,” saying “I am proud of what I think is a very thoughtful record.”

By Eva Penzeymoog
For WisPolitics

Saturday, October 16, 2010

 10:53 AM 

Ryan outraises House candidates, Obey sends almost $450,000 to Dems

Republican Paul Ryan is a heavy favorite to win re-election to his southeastern House seat this fall.

But that didn't stop him from raising $655,530 between Aug. 26 and Sept. 30, the most of any Wisconsin House candidate for the period.

In the state's lone open congressional district, northern Wisconsin's 7th CD, Dem state Sen. Julie Lass of Stevens Point raised $319,977 and spent $383,894, leaving her $338,998 cash on hand. Her GOP opponent Sean Duffy of Ashland reported raising $274,079 and spending $326,357, ending the period with a warchest of $645,514.

The two are battling to replace longtime U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wausau. Obey reported disbursing $479,605 between July 1 and Sept. 30, the bulk of it a $360,000 donation to the Wisconsin Democratic Party and $50,000 to the DCCC.

Obey, who still had $504,799 in the bank, also gave $10,000 to the DPW-Unity Fund, $16,000 to 19 county Dem parties in the district and $13,200 to fellow Dem House candidates. That includes $2,400 each to Dem incumbents Steve Kagen of Appleton and Ron Kind of La Crosse.

His donations to Dems during the period totaled close to $450,000.

In the state’s other closely watched House races, Kind outraised and outspent his opponent Dan Kapanke while Kagen was outraised in the period by GOP challenger Reid Ribble, now favored by many to win.

And in the U.S. Senate race, numbers showed GOP candidate Ron Johnson spending a total of $8.6 million -- a lot of his own money -- so far in trying to unseat incumbent Dem Russ Feingold.

Here’s a rundown of the various federal races:

-- In addition to his big fundraising haul, Ryan spent $134,467 and had $2.79 million cash on hand; he's the overwhelming favorite in the 1st CD against Dem John Heckenlively of Racine, who did not have a report filed.

-- Kagen raised $226,008, spent $609,936 spent and had $393,304 cash on hand. The wealthy allergist hasn't put any of his own money into his campaign this cycle, according to his latest report. Ribble, a roofing contractor, raised $309,371, spent $88,997 and had $318,626 cash on hand.

-- Kind raised $243,993, spent $720,942 and had $796,011 cash on hand in his 3rd CD race. Kapanke, a GOP state senator from LaCrosse, raised $113,818, spent $397,244 and had $38,525 cash on hand.

-- U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, reported $35,878 raised, $14,571 spent and $780,298 cash on hand. GOP Mt. Horeb small businessman Chad Lee reported $12,740 raised, $13,989 spent and $7,632 in the bank as he challenges the longtime 2nd District incumbent.

-- In the heavily Dem 4th CD, incumbent Gwen Moore of Milwaukee reported $69,566 raised, $51,313 spent and $61,953 cash on hand. She'll face Milwaukee Republican Dan Sebring, who raised $9,491 and spent $11,792. He had just $4,507 cash on hand.

-- U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, reported raising $68,362 and spending $45,975 toward a warchest of $399,185 in the 5th CD. Sensenbrenner is also a heavy favorite in his race, where he faces Menomonee Falls Dem Todd Kolosso, who had no report filed.

-- U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, raised $42,516, spent $15,682 and reported $940,504 cash on hand. Princeton Dem Joseph Kallas reported raising $5,688 in his effort against the longtime 6th CD incumbent. Kallas spent $2,731 for a cash balance of $3,247.

In the Senate race, Feingold outraised Johnson among individual donors over the period and reported a larger cash balance. But the Oshkosh plastics company owner continues to pour his own money into the campaign.

Feingold, D-Middleton, raised $3.3 million in the period and had a warchest of $3.5 million, according to his campaign.

Johnson loaned his campaign another $2.36 million of his own money, bringing his total personal contributions to more than $6.7 million. Johnson reported raising another $2.1 million from contributors during the latest period and spent $4.1 million. He reported nearly $2 million cash on hand.

Friday, October 15, 2010

 5:09 PM 

Dems hit Duffy over record as DA, Lassa criticized for negative ads

Democrats are raising questions about Republican 7th CD candidate Sean Duffy’s claims of prosecutorial success, and Duffy’s campaign says Ashland County residents are steamed at Dem Julie Lassa for portraying their home in a negative light in her ads.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate held a conference call with reporters Friday accusing him of either making up or using public employees to tabulate his claim of a 90 percent success rate. He said the party has filed a complaint with the Department of Justice and Office of Lawyer Regulation on the matter.

The party has also launched a Web site, http://therealseanduffy.com/, attacking Duffy’s record. The site claims Duffy “let child sexual predators and drunk drivers off with minimal sentences, putting them back on the streets.”

The Duffy campaign says those claims are false and an attempt to revive a floundering Lassa campaign. The figure comes from a public records studied by campaign manager Matt Seaholm and a volunteer. According to spokeswoman Wendy Riemann, they calculated as Ashland County DA Duffy won 63 of the 68 cases he both charged and tried, which equals a success rate of 93 percent.

Duffy was named Ashland County DA in 2002 by then Gov. Scott McCallum and elected later that year unopposed. He resigned in July to focus full-time on his congressional run.

Lassa has been blasting Duffy's record in ads as they battle to replace the retiring Dave Obey, D-Wausau. In one, the assistant DA Dan Goglin, who gave Obey’s campaign $150 according to the Huffington Post’s political contribution tracker, said Duffy was a “no show” in the office. Another claims that under Duffy’s tenure violent crime quadrupled and sexual assault rose to the highest rate in the state.

Local TV station WDIO ran a story with local residents calling on Lassa to stop running the ads, saying the put the county in a negative light. One of the people cited in the story, David Bretting, is CEO of Bretting Manufacturing, the largest employer in the city.

"Its just a shame that somebody is willing to sacrifice Ashland County and the city of Ashland for political points when its just not true," Bretting said.

According Huffington Post’s contribution tracker, Bretting has given Duffy’s campaign $2,000, and other family members have contributed more than $15,000 to his campaign.

The Ashland Daily Press reported the county board directed County Board Chairwoman Peg Kurilla to send a letter asking Lassa to drop the ads.

Lassa campaign spokeswoman Haley Morris said the calls are generated from Duffy backers looking to distract from his record.

“We’ve gotten response from voters in Ashland County who are concerned and they grow more concerned when they learn about Sean Duffy’s failed record and that he was putting his political career above the safety of Ashland County residents,” she said.

 4:16 PM 

Kagen campaign rips Ribble for answer on free trade agreements

Republican Reid Ribble’s answer to a conservative activist organization about free trade has 8th CD Dems questioning his commitment to keeping jobs in the district.

Ribble’s campaign says free trade agreements, when properly enforced, lower costs for consumers. Ribble, who owned a roofing business prior to his congressional bid, is taking on two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton.

In July, Ribble answered a candidate questionnaire from Liberty Central, a 501(c)4 founded in Nov. 2009 “whose primary objective is to harness the power of citizen voices, inform everyday Americans with knowledge, and activate them to preserve liberty,” according to its Web site.

One survey question posed, “Should we promote free trade agreements that allow Americans to sell goods in foreign markets, even if it may cost American jobs?”

Ribble’s answer, “Yes – Although free trade agreements can cost some jobs they create others and open up liquidity for consumers through lower prices.”

The Kagen campaign says the answer won’t go over well in the 8th, where the paper industry is a major employer. Kagen has been fighting in Congress to stop illegal paper dumping by Asian producers.

“Reid Ribble says he’s for jobs, but he supports the same trade policies and corporate tax loopholes that shipped our northeast Wisconsin jobs overseas,” Kagen spokeswoman Allison Jaslow said. “While Mr. Ribble continues to obfuscate his real positions, Dr. Kagen continues to fight to protect our jobs from the poor policies his opponent favors.”

Ribble, in a statement sent from his campaign, called Kagen “a hypocrite” and said excessive taxes and regulations are hurting workers. He said Washington isn’t giving American workers a level playing field.

“I’ve always stated, free trade agreements lower costs for consumers and create jobs,” Ribble said. “We can’t trust what (Kagen) says. I’ll fight protectionism and will enforce trade agreements and keep the playing field level for our workers.”

--By Greg Bump

 12:17 PM 

Feingold outraises Johnson among individual contributors

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold raised more from contributors in the quarterly period than Republican challenger Ron Johnson, and has more cash on hand going into the final weeks of the election.

According to his campaign, the Middleton Democrat raised $3.3 million in the period spanning Aug. 26 through Sept. 30. He ended the period with $3.5 million cash on hand.

Johnson, of Oshkosh, reported $2.1 million raised over the period, but also put $2.36 million of his own money into the race.

 11:46 AM 

Johnson's personal contribution nears $7 million

GOP U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson poured in more than $2.36 million of his own money into his campaign account since Aug. 26, according to his campaign.

That's in addition to the $2.1 million raised from contributors in the period ending Sept. 30. Johnson's contribution brings the amount he has contributed to his own campaign since entering the race against incumbent Dem U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold in May to nearly $6.8 million.

Campaign finance reports from federal candidates are due tonight at midnight. The Johnson campaign says the fundraising figures show "major momentum."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

 1:12 PM 

Time names Duffy to '40 Under 40'

In its edition hitting newsstands tomorrow, Time Magazine has named 7th CD Republican candidate Sean Duffy as one of its "40 Under 40" rising American political stars.

"Duffy, 39, may be best known for his turn on MTV's The Real World or perhaps as a five-time world-champion log climber," the article says, "But in northwestern Wisconsin, the Republican is thought of as the district attorney who cracked down on child sex crimes. That law-and-order rep has made him the front runner for the state's 7th Congressional District seat."

The former Ashland County DA also makes Time's list of "Best Viral Campaign Ads of 2010" for his "Get America Rolling Again" 30-second TV spot. The magazine calls it the "lumberjackiest political ad of the season."

And the "Crystal Ball" projections, compiled by Larry Sabato and the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, have moved the 7th CD from "toss up" to "lean Republican" in the latest ratings of House races.

 9:22 AM 

Report: DCCC cancels 8th CD ads

The Washington Post reports today that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has pulled its remaining TV ad buys in the 8th Congressional District.

Sources told Chris Cillizza's "The Fix" that the ads have been cancelled. DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told WisPolitics last month that the committee remained "fully committed" to Kagen's campaign after reports of an ad buy cutback in Green Bay.

"He’s been running an excellent effort and the DCCC is working aggressively with his campaign," Van Hollen told WisPolitics in a statement. He reiterated this week that the committee is confident in Kagen's chances and is still "fully invested" in voter outreach efforts.

The NRCC responded that Dems have officially abandoned the Appleton allergist in his quest for a third term in the House.

UPDATE: The DCCC is pushing back against the suggestion it is giving up on Kagen. Dem-leaning groups AFSCME and American Families First have started airing spots in the district to boost Kagen.

“The DCCC constantly makes adjustments based on the level of outside group activity in a district. Based on our assessment on the level of TV advertising in the district, Steve Kagan (sic) is in a strong position. We are fully invested in Steve Kagan’s (sic) voter contact efforts and remain confident he will win on election night,” said DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen in a statement.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

 2:19 PM 

Kind rips attack ads in 3rd CD race

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind today slammed a pair of groups running ads against him in the 3rd Congressional District as attempting to create "the best democracy money can buy."

"We've got very powerful special interest groups in Washington coming in and trying to buy these elections in Wisconsin," said Kind, D-La Crosse, in an interview with WisPolitics. He said Americans for Prosperity and the 60 Plus Association have spent nearly $1 million toward "blatantly false" attack ads so far in the 2010 election cycle.

"On the one hand, they're running negative, deliberately misleading ads trying to scare seniors about the Medicare that they have," Kind said. "And on the other hand, their whole agenda is to get people elected that will rubber stamp them, and privatize Social Security and privatize Medicare."

Kind said that while he takes issue with the content of the ads, he's more concerned about the "cloak of secrecy" surrounding the outside groups. He said the funding of Americans for Prosperity by energy billionaires David and Charles Koch exemplifies the problem.

"You can end up having two individuals with enough money to run negative ads against enough people to literally accomplish a hostile takeover of the United States government."

See the ads in Ad Watch.

 11:24 AM 

Sensenbrenner seeks hearing on environmental assessment of rail line

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hold a public hearing on the environmental impact of a controversial high-speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison, saying the first phase of the project is being rushed through without public input.

Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, said the last public hearing on the environmental assessment was held in 2001, and that the impact on wetlands from the project has increased “from 13.5 acres at the time of the hearing to 23.8 acres in the permit application."

"I have opposed this rail project from the inception because it is plain and simply a boondoggle that we can’t afford," Sensenbrenner said in a statement. "However, at the very least the public has a right to public hearings to learn about the impact this will have on their communities."

 10:00 AM 

Ryan laments that national debt has been 'weaponized politically'

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan told a crowd at UW-Milwaukee that a bipartisan approach is needed to fix the national debt, but lamented the problem “has become weaponized politically.”

Ryan, R-Janesville, speaking at a forum hosted by the Concord Coalition and the Wisconsin Fiscal Advisory Council, also criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the recession.

“You can’t tax your way out of this. If you try to, you will kill the economy,” said Ryan, who outlined the proposals in his “Roadmap For America’s Future."

Andy Stern, former President of the Service Employees International Union, emphasized the importance of creating jobs that strengthen the middle class. Stern countered Ryan’s claims that taxes were the main issue; instead arguing the real problem lies in rising inequality.

Stern emphasized education is key and that in the newly emerging global economy, “team USA has no real plan.”

The Concord Coalition is a non-partisan group that seeks to educate the public in order to champion fiscal responsibility. The forum addressed a variety of topics, most prominently the projected skyrocketing of debt as the country’s population continues to age and health care costs rise.

 9:57 AM 

Wasserman Schultz urges women to run for office

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz urged Wisconsin women to jump into the world of elected politics, saying women's voices and experience are critical to public discourse.

"I know it’s perhaps not the simplest way to make a difference, but it is an incredible opportunity that I urge all of you to consider," Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said last night at the state Democratic Party's annual Eleanor Roosevelt Tribute fundraiser.

Wasserman Schultz recounted her own initial run for office, winning a seat in the Florida Legislature at age 26.

"In that first election, the good ol' boy network had picked their favorite, and it was not me, I promise you," Wasserman Schultz said, recounting that she knocked on some 25,000 doors en route to winning a six-way primary with 53 percent of the vote.

"There will always be naysayers. There will always be people who tell you that the timing just isn't right, that the job just isn't a good fit, and that the world just isn't ready," Wasserman Schultz said. "Prove them wrong."

She added that only 17 percent of Congress members are women and noted the Los Angeles Times projected that percentage could decrease next year for only the second time in the country's history.

"We cannot let that happen this fall," Wasserman Schultz said. "We know how important it is that women's voices are represented in Congress."

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, also addressed the fundraiser, telling activists that their only chance to prevail in November is to outwork the GOP over the last three weeks of the campaign.

"As women, we have the most to gain and the most to lose in this election," Baldwin said.

See more here.

 9:45 AM 

The Hill poll: Obey's seat in jeopardy for Dems

A new poll from The Hill newspaper has Sean Duffy up 44 percent to 35 percent over Julie Lassa in the 7th CD.

The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll is one of a series the Washington, D.C.-based paper is doing in 42 toss-up races it believes will determine control of the next Congress. Wisconsin’s 7th CD was included in the paper’s second round of polling looking at 10 open seats.

The telephone survey of 400 likely voters was done Oct. 2-7 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

 8:02 AM 

Magazine ranks Ryan, Feingold among best in Congress

Esquire magazine ranks U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold among the magazine’s "10 Best Members of Congress."

Of Feingold, D-Middleton, the magazine writes, "It is not uncommon for Senator Feingold to find himself the lone vote either for or against something -- in the fraught fall of 2001, for instance, he was the sole senator to vote against the so-called USA Patriot Act -- and it is also not uncommon to hear of the Democratic leadership in the Senate meeting to figure out what to do about some demand of conscience from 'goddamn Russ Feingold, who's so pure and so good and thinks he runs the place,' as one top aide put it. Well, all we have to say is that by God somebody's got to be pure and good, and Washington would be a greatly diminished place without Feingold's annoyingly high standards on matters dealing with the rule of law and constitutional scholarship. Which is what has us worried, because this year he is in the fight of his life."

The piece on Ryan, R-Janesville, begins, "We don't know about you, but we've really missed conservatives around here. Not the weirdos at the rallies in the tri-cornered hats and breeches, the other, real, conservatives. Because for about the last nine years -- ever since George W. Bush cut taxes while presiding over the largest expansion of the federal government since FDR, with the enthusiastic blessing of the putative conservative party; ever since the ascendancy of the Democrats, who needed little encouragement to continue and even accelerate borrowing and spending our way out of the massive hole we're in -- actual conservatives have been desperately short supply ... So it's come as something of a relief to witness the emergence of Congressman Paul Ryan as a rare credible voice of fiscal responsibility and small-government conservatism on the national scene."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

 11:23 AM 

Polling paints competing pictures of Senate race

Two polls out this morning paint vastly different pictures of the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Dem Russ Feingold and GOP challenger Ron Johnson.

Feingold's campaign this morning released a poll showing the race was tied at 48 when leaners were included.

That followed a survey out earlier this morning from Rasmussen Reports that showed Johnson leading Feingold by 7 points, 52-45. That was down from a 12-point lead Johnson had over Feingold in the Rasmussen poll out two weeks ago.

Feingold campaign manager George Aldrich put the poll out in a blog post, saying the results show momentum is swinging to the Dem.

"It’s clear that Johnson’s strategy of hiding from the media, hiding from voters, hiding behind political talking points, and hiding behind over $7 million of empty television ads, is not working," Aldrich said.

Johnson spokeswoman Sara Sendek said Feingold is the only one concerned about polls, while Johnson is focused on meeting with voters.

"Senator Feingold continues to trail Ron Johnson in public polling because voters are tired of career politicians that do not listen," she said.

UPDATE: There's a third poll on the race out today. The Reuters-Ipsos survey found Johnson leading among likely voters 51-44.

 11:03 AM 

Lassa makes fundraising plea in ActBlue video

In a fundraising video on the Dem online fundraising operation ActBlue, 7th CD candidate Julie Lassa says she is being attacked by outside groups because she is in a very tight race with Republican Sean Duffy.

Lassa, a state senator from Stevens Point, and Duffy, former DA of Ashland County, are fighting to take over the seat vacated by the retirement of Dem U.S. Rep. Dave Obey.

Polling released by the Lassa campaign shows the race is a virtual dead heat, with Duffy leading 42 percent to 41 percent.

A Duffy campaign pol, however, shows the race is not close, with the Republican leading Lassa 47-34.

Lassa says in the video that "no less than seven right wing groups" have run attack ads against her in the last week. She says the money is coming "in truckloads."

"These outside groups, they just love my opponent Sean Duffy -- the former reality television star," Lassa says. "He's signed their pledges and will be a reliable vote for corporations and against everything working people stand for."

She specifically cites a U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad that displays her her family's home phone number on the screen "to harrass and try to intimidate us, but I haven't and I won't back down."

Lassa says she's being targeted because the candidates are tied in the polls.

"This race could go either way," Lassa said. "These groups are doing everything -- and I mean everything possible -- to buy this race for my right wing, Sara Palin-endorses opponent."

--By Greg Bump

 10:33 AM 

Feingold, Johnson spar over outside groups' ad spending

Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson mixed it up more frequently in their second of three debates.

In one lively exchange Monday night, Feingold repeatedly called on Johnson to ask outside special interest groups to cease running what Feingold called “millions of dollars” worth of TV commercials on Johnson’s behalf.

“I am not. I don’t want them,” Feingold said. “You say you don’t want them. Will you call on them to stop?”

“I have no control over them,” Johnson answered.

Feingold repeated his question.

“That’s their right to free speech,” Johnson continued.

“Will you ask them to stop?” Feingold said again. “That’s your right to free speech to say, ‘You can stop.’”

“These groups have a right to run ads. That is their freedom,” Johnson said, adding the people are donating money to such groups because of their concerns over out-of-control spending. He accused Feingold or trying to dictate who gets to exercise their First Amendment rights.

See more coverage here.

Monday, October 11, 2010

 1:46 PM 

Cook adjusts rating in 3rd congressional

Political analyst Charlie Cook has moved the 3rd Congressional District from the "Likely Dem" to "Lean Dem" category in his latest rankings.

The 8th CD is rated as a "Lean Republican" by Cook, while the 7th is rated as a toss-up.

See more from Cook here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

 1:55 PM 

Johnson campaign: $2.1 million raised since Aug. 26

Republican Ron Johnson's campaign says it raised $2.1 million between Aug. 26 and Sept. 30.

Fundraising reports for federal candidates are due to the FEC by Oct. 15.

The fundraising total doesn't include any personal contributions from Johnson, the owner Oshkosh plastics manufacturer Pacur. A campaign spokeswoman said she didn't know how much Johnson contributed to his campaign in the latest fundraising period or the cash on hand total at the end of the period.

In the last reporting period covering July 1 through Aug. 25, Johnson contributed $2.9 million to his campaign. He ended that period with more than $1.6 million cash on hand.

The campaign said it has raised $3.9 million from donors since Johnson entered the race in May. The funds have been raised through donations from 21,000 individual contributors, 70 percent of whom are state residents, a campaign spokeswoman said.

 11:51 AM 

Feingold, Johnson in dead heat, according to DSCC poll

Polling information the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released to WisPolitics today shows a much tighter U.S. Senate race than other publicly available surveys.

The poll of 600 likely voters, conducted by the firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin, Metz & Associates Oct. 4-6, shows Dem U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold trailing Republican Ron Johnson 44 percent to 42 percent.

When leaners are pushed to decide between the two candidates, Johnson's lead shrinks to one point, 49-48. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

The findings are at odds with other polling, the latest being a We The People/Check Point poll released today showing Johnson leading Feingold 49 percent to 41 percent.

--By Greg Bump

 10:27 AM 

Johnson "money bomb" raises $68K

Republican Ron Johnson's online "money bomb" effort raised more than $68,000 in one day, according to a campaign spokeswoman.

Johnson, a plastics company owner from Oshkosh, is leading incumbent Dem U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold in public polls, and has been outspending Feingold on TV ads mostly through a self-funded campaign. The two meet up tonight in Milwaukee for their first debate.

Feingold's campaign held a one-day "cheddarbomb" fundraising event last month and reported raising more than $435,000.

--By Greg Bump

 9:09 AM 

Feingold says national employment figures show positive trend

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold said this morning that new employment figures issued today continue to show a positive trend in private sector hiring, but more needs to be done.

The Labor Department reported this morning that the national unemployment rate held at 9.6 percent in September, though nationwide 95,000 jobs were shed due to public sector layoffs and modest public sector hiring.

Feingold said Wisconsin's unemployment rate has remained about two full points below the national level. The figure was 7.8 percent as of last month.

"That's not good enough but it does suggest that Wisconsin's better positioned to get out of this situation than other states," Feingold, D-Middleton, said. "I'm not ready to celebrate these numbers but I think the trend is improving and there are many more positive indicators in the past three or four weeks that things are getting better rather than worse."

Feingold made the comments following a brief address to the Wisconsin Nurses Association's 100th anniversary celebration at Monona Terrace in Madison. Feingold and Republican opponent Ron Johnson, an Oshkosh plastics company owner, will face off tonight in their first debate.

The incumbent has been trailing in public polls, with the most recent, a We The People/Check Point poll released today, showing Johnson leading Feingold 49 percent to 41 percent. The Feingold campaign has said their internal polls show him with a slight lead.

Speaking to the WNA gathering, Feingold touted the "historic improvements" of the health care reform bill, which has been a central issue in the race. He said 32 million Americans who did not have access to health care will under the new law.

"This is what the people of Wisconsin have told me they wanted," Feingold said. "The consumer protections in this law and the increase in access to care will change countless lives for the better in this state and this nation as a whole."

-- By Greg Bump

Thursday, October 7, 2010

 10:38 AM 

Feingold seeks ban on Canadian drilling in Great Lakes

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and 15 other lawmakers are urging a joint U.S.-Canadian commission to consider a Great Lakes oil and gas drilling ban when commission members meet later this month in Ottawa.

In a letter to the International Joint Commission -- charged with oversight of the Great Lakes -- the lawmakers call on Canada to suspend drilling from hundreds of active wells in Lake Erie, as well as banning future drilling in the other lakes.

The U.S. has banned such drilling, but seven Michigan wells continue to operate after being grand-fathered under the American law.

“While the U.S. has banned new oil and gas drilling in the Great Lakes, Canada has yet to follow suit,” Feingold said in a statement. “Banning U.S.-based drilling is only half the battle."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

 3:50 PM 

Lassa, Duffy spar over Social Security in 1st debate

WAUSAU -- Dem U.S. House hopeful Julie Lassa today accused GOP opponent Sean Duffy of flip-flopping on whether he supports privatization of Social Security.

Lassa, a state lawmaker since 1998, told about 100 people during her first debate with Duffy that the Republican supports U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan that calls for allowing private investments of Social Security money, an idea Lassa said she opposed.

Duffy called Ryan’s plan a good “starting point” for reforming federal spending, but said he did not support privatizing Social Security.

“I do support talking about solutions that are going to shore it up,” he said. “I look forward to fighting for Social Security when I get to Washington.”

Duffy, the former district attorney in Ashland County, called Lassa’s attack on him “misleading” and quoted one newspaper criticism of Lassa as “liar, liar, pants on fire.”

The debate at Northcentral Technical College, sponsored by a coalition of human services, aging and disability groups, was not televised and was the first of at least four meetings the two candidates planned before the November election. The next is Oct. 17 on WSAW-TV in Wausau, the campaigns said.

The 7th CD is open for the first time in decades after Democrat Dave Obey, first elected in 1969, announced his retirement last spring. Observers say the race is one of the most competitive and closely watched in the nation.

Wednesday’s crowd included white-haired seniors, disabled people in wheelchairs and some college students.

Lassa, a 39-year-old state senator who grew up on a central Wisconsin dairy farm, called Social Security a significant difference between the candidates.

“My opponent flip-flops on the issue depending on who he is talking to,” she said. “Once my opponent got called on the carpet for his support of Paul Ryan’s budget plan that includes privatization of Social Security, he dropped it like a hot potato and ran the other way.”

Workers have a “contract” for Social Security, and the government has an obligation to fulfill it, Lassa said.

She advocated a halt to borrowing from the Social Security trust fund to pay for other programs, a change that would protect the program through 2040, she said.

Duffy said stopping the raids on Social Security was a great proposal “20 years ago. The trust fund is gone. There’s no more money in it. We are going to pay it back. We got to take tax dollars today and pay back the IOUs.”

The real solution is federal policies that clear the way for “job-creators” to create jobs so more people are working and paying into Social Security, said Duffy, a former reality TV star and competitive lumberjack.

Means testing for Social Security benefits should be explored, at least for future generations, Duffy said.

The candidates also clashed on tax cuts to spur the economy.

Duffy favored extending the so-called Bush tax cuts for all incomes, saying taking more money from “our job-creators at this time” doesn’t make sense.

Lassa said a healthy U.S. economy always has occurred with a “vibrant middle class,” so they should not pay higher taxes. But she said $700 billion could be raised to help pay down the federal debt by taxing wealthy Americans.

“I don’t see Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan getting a tax cut and creating any jobs,” Lassa said.

Duffy said he could support a repeal of the new federal health care reforms -- if the reforms were replaced with something better.

“This reform is not sustainable,” he said. “There is some common sense solutions that should have been included. One of them is tort reform.”

Lassa said new reforms have several good changes, including a 35 percent tax cut to small businesses if they offer health insurance to workers. But she worries about a provision that requires individuals and families to obtain health insurance.

“That piece we have to watch carefully to make sure health insurance is affordable,” she said.

By Robert Imrie, for WisPolitics

 9:07 AM 

Feingold tweaks TV ad after NFL's objection

Russ Feingold’s campaign has re-cut a TV ad accusing Ron Johnson and corporate special interests of excessive celebration, dropping NFL footage that was in the original spot.

In the ad, Feingold accuses corporate special interests and Ron Johnson of excessive celebration as scenes of various end zone celebrations play. In the the original ad, one shot features former Minnesota Vikings receiver Randy Moss pretending to moon the crowd at Lambeau Field and then rubbing his body against the goal post during a 2005 playoff loss.

The new version swaps out that section with two players in generic football uniforms dancing.

“They’re dancing in the end zone because they think they’re going to take down the U.S. senator who’s been named the No. 1 enemy of Washington lobbyists,” Feingold says in the ad as he's walking along an athletic field and the shot cuts to a ranking of lawmakers.

“Fortunately, the game isn’t over yet,” Feingold says as the spot shows a football scoreboard with the game tied at 10 and another half left to play.

The NFL features a disclaimer during each game that the broadcast is league property and cannot be used without its express written consent.

"We did not license the footage and have contacted the Senator's campaign about removing it," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote in an e-mail after contacted about the first version of the spot.

Feingold spokesman John Kraus said Tuesday the campaign was "making an edit to the ad to accommodate the NFL’s concerns.”

Johnson spokeswoman Sara Sendek responded in a statement, "Senator Feingold previously told voters that he would only run clean campaigns, but his pattern of running dishonest, misleading and unlawful ads makes it apparent that he plans to do anything but that."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

 10:47 AM 

Seniors group endorses Kagen

U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen today blasted GOP opponent Reid Ribble over his position on the management of Social Security funding, accusing him of advocating "destroying Social Security as we know it."

Kagen, D-Appleton, picked up the endorsement of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare in his race for the 8th Congressional District today. Both Kagen and Max Richtman, executive vice president of the NCSPPM, said Ribble's preference for "personalization of the system but within Social Security" amounts to privatization of the 75 year-old program.

"There is no difference between privatization and personalization," Kagen said in a conference call with reporters.

"My opponent said he wanted to put money for his grandchildren into their own accounts," the congressman added. "If these are their own accounts, how is that not privatization?"

Richtman praised Kagen's work on senior issues, saying he's recorded a 100 percent rating on the group's legislative scorecard. In addition, Richtman said Kagen's work on cost-of-living adjustments for seniors has been critical in a time when costs are increasing but Social Security payments have remained stagnant.

He alleged that Ribble has avoided using the term "privatization" since it's "such a hot-button word."

"The bottom line is ... the impact is exactly the same," Richtman said. "Money diverted into private accounts is not going into Social Security."

Ribble responded in a statement from his campaign that Kagen's attacks distort his position.

"The difference between personalization and privatization is that personalizing Social Security means the money is locked into the Social Security system for each person, not sent to the stock market," Ribble said. "This way, an individual’s Social Security money is safe and secure, and politicians like Congressman Kagen can’t steal money from the Trust Fund to pay for their Washington pet projects."

Monday, October 4, 2010

 9:34 AM 

Ryan says he backs GOP's 'Pledge,' despite lack of reforms

Although the GOP's “Pledge to America” agenda has come under fire for not tackling reforms to ensure the solvency of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan says he supports the decisions Republican leaders made on what to include in the document.

The Janesville Republican said on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” a statewide TV newsmagazine produced in conjunction with WisPolitics.com, that control of government will be divided should Republicans win majorities in Congress.

It wouldn't be right, he said, to make promises the party could not keep given the president's veto power

“We wanted to talk about deliver-ables,” Ryan said.

Ryan, who earlier released a more sweeping fiscal plan, wasn't present at the unveiling of the pledge. He laughed off a suggestion that his absence signaled he didn't support the document.

“I just wasn't there,” Ryan chuckled. “I wasn't invited. … Somebody had to hold the fort at the Capitol.”

See more here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

 3:48 PM 

Johnson says abuse bill was laudable but flawed

Ron Johnson says he was briefed extensively on a bill to eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual abuse victims right to sue their abusers prior to his testimony before a state Senate committee last year.

Johnson, a Republican, is taking on incumbent Dem U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold.

Johnson has faced pressure this week from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a group representing those abused by priests, after video of his testimony resurfaced. Johnson testified before the committee as a member of the Diocese of Green Bay’s Financial Council. The group wants Johnson to push the diocese to disclose the names of pedophile priests.

Johnson has said he wants the Diocese to provide the "utmost transparency" in answering questions from victims.

“Sexual predators and anybody who would aid and abet them, I want to make sure those folks are prosecuted criminally and I can’t think of a harsh enough penalty,” he told reporters today. “I was just testifying about what the unintended consequences might be of that particular piece of legislation. Laudable goal but a flawed piece of legislation.”

Johnson made the comments today following an address to the Dairy Business Association at the World Dairy Expo in Madison. The DBA has endorsed Johnson.

Asked about the Milk Income Loss Contract program, Johnson said he is in favor of a new ag bill, but said he doesn’t know a lot of the specifics, and said he would be looking for guidance from people like former state legislator Jim Harsdorf, who introduced him at the event. But he said most Americans support safety net programs for farmers.

“I realize the farm economy doesn’t necessarily follow, free market doesn’t work all that well because you have a bumper crop and then the prices will really drop,” Johnson said. “I certainly support things like safety nets, risk management and those types of programs.”

During his stump speech to the group, Johnson said his candidacy was prompted by national health care reform, which he called “the greatest single assault on freedom in my lifetime. It is designed to lead to a government takeover of this health care system.”

Johnson relayed the personal story of his daughter who as a child needed a life-saving heart operation. She was saved because he had the freedom to seek out the best care, Johnson said, something he contends wouldn’t be possible under a “socialized” system.

“First of all take a look at what happens in Canada,” Johnson said to reporters. “There’s a reason the premier of Newfoundland came to America to get his heart surgery. It’s not because that Canadian system is superior.”

Johnson, who owns Oshkosh-based plastics manufacturer Pacur, stressed his insurance plan was the same as every other employee at Pacur, “run-of-the-mill coverage any small- to medium-sized business would have.”

On the war effort, Johnson said he would question policy but not “grandstand or undermine the efforts of our troops.”

“I would not politicize the war,” Johnson said, adding he would work behind the scenes with congressional colleagues and the administration to reach a consensus “so we as a nation could reverse course.”

That said, Johnson said he was concerned about the commitment of the Obama administration to the war effort in Afghanistan.

“I’m concerned about what they define victory, success as. I’m not quite sure what it is. I’m concerned that they’re committed,” he said.

“I’m not privy to all the intelligence,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is, President Obama is and he must see something in the intelligence that prompted him to surge troops … There is no doubt about it that we are under threat of terrorism. And we take that seriously. I’d much rather fight that over there than fight that on the streets here in America.”

 3:26 PM 

Kind agrees to 3 debates in 3rd CD

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, has accepted invitations to three debates hosted by UW campuses within the 3rd Congressional District.

The first, confirmed by Kind and GOP opponent Dan Kapanke earlier this week, is set for Oct. 19 in Platteville. It will be sponsored by UW-Platteville and the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Kind today accepted debates at UW-Eau Claire on Oct. 20 and at UW-La Crosse on Oct. 26. All three events will begin at 7 p.m.

Kapanke, a La Crosse state senator, originally proposed 19 debates in each of the 3rd CD's counties.

 12:16 PM 

Petri, Sensenbrenner question DOT motorcycle policy

Wisconsin GOP U.S. Reps. Tom Petri and Jim Sensenbrenner have sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood outlining their concerns over a motorcycle checkpoint program.

The lawmakers say the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Motorcycle Law Enforcement Demonstrations Grant Program creates motorcycle-only checkpoints that aren't proven to reduce crashes.

"What's the safety benefit of this? We have limited resources, and motorcycle checkpoints won't get us the biggest bang for the buck," Petri, R-Fond du Lac, said in a statement. "Also, it's outrageously intrusive."

The letter asks LaHood to outline the program's benefits as well as the criteria used by the NHTSA to determine the checkpoints' value in preventing crashes and increasing safety.

“Crash prevention is the first priority for motorcyclists. It makes little sense to me why NHTSA continues to advocate programs that haven’t proven to prevent motorcycle accidents in the first place,” Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, said.

 9:02 AM 

Rasmussen poll: Johnson expands lead

The latest Rasmussen Reports poll has Republican Ron Johnson increasing his lead over Dem U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold.

The poll, conducted Wednesday, shows Johnson up 54 percent to 42 percent. Two weeks ago, Johnson was up 51-44.

The survey of 750 likely voters has a margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Dems routinely claim the polls are biased, but analysts on both sides see value in the trends.

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