Election night of 2010 was a hard night for many liberals to go through. Many worthy and genuine candidates fell victim to a Republican wave that destroyed almost everyone that was in it’s path. None seemed to embody this more than Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost his bid for a fourth term to Oshkosh businessman, Ron Johnson.
Less than a year has passed and Feingold’s name is already being drawn back out as a potential candidate for U.S. Senate in the wake of Sen. Herb Kohl’s announced retirement. Feingold himself has acknowledged that he is thinking about running again and will make his plans known by Labor Day. But would a Feingold candidacy be assured a victory and redeem the progressive movement or could it be a disaster that sets us back even further?
As wonderful as it would be for Feingold to get back into the US Senate, his candidacy could present several problems. The biggest one would be Feingold’s unwillingness to take outside money from organizations like the DSCC and the DNC. This put Feingold at a terrible disadvantage last year in facing a very rich opponent and unlimited spending by PACs putting out material against him. With Feingold’s new organization, Progressives United, leading the fight against the Citizens United ruling in the Supreme Court, it does not seem likely that Feingold will go back on this promise.
The other problem that Feingold will face is the messaging his campaign will try to establish. In 2010, Feingold tried to reassert himself as someone who would stand up to the special interests of Washington and a champion of the middle class. But after spending 18 years as a senator in DC, it was very hard for Feingold to keep that type of image. It also did not help him that during his debates with Ron Johnson, Feingold would continuously mention organizations, such as the CBO, that would only make him look more like a lackey of Beltway culture. Feingold’s commercials, which usually had the tone of being eccentric but genuine, seemed confusing and part of a desperate strategy. Feingold’s inability to put the right message in his campaign makes a potential 2012 candidacy anything but a sure thing.
But the points that go in favor of a Feingold candidacy cannot be ignored either. If Feingold were to throw his hat into this ring, he would certainly be the most popular and familiar candidate to the Wisconsin electorate. He would not have to spend time and money defining himself to voters. He would also bring a very loyal base of people that would be willing to not only give money, but also give time to campaign for him.
Feingold would also be facing a much higher voter turnout in 2012 with President Obama being on the ballot, which would have an increase in younger and minority voters, who tend to break for the Democrats. Plus, there is also the fact that even though the GOP did very well in Wisconsin last year, the electorate is not happy with their actions in governing. This provides Feingold with someone to compare himself favorably to.
But the ultimate thing to watch, should Feingold enter this race, would be whether Feingold can learn from the mistakes he made last time. He would need to run a very aggressive campaign that goes after his opponents ferociously, he needs to speak with terms that he knew before he arrived in Washington and he needs to establish a clear message.
Of course, this is all assuming Feingold wants to run in the first place, which many people are not too sure of in the first place. Feingold will not run if his heart is not completely in this. But if he wants it, can be aggressive and learn from the mistakes that cost him his job last year, a return to the Senate for Russ Feingold would be a very possible scenario. Will it provide liberal redemption for the losses the left faced in 2010? Not entirely, but I know that the victory will be a very sweet one indeed.