The race between Sen. Ron Johnson and former Sen. Russ Feingold was widely billed as a rerun of the hotly contested match in 2010 in which Feingold was unseated after three terms. But has this year’s race turned out to be the one everyone envisioned?
What stayed the same
1. The great divide. Wisconsin’s status as a purple state hasn’t changed much. In 2010, exit polls by Edison Research showed that state voters who identified with a party were 36 percent Republican, 37 percent Democrat and 27 percent Independent. In 2012, that changed slightly to 32 percent Republican, 37 percent Democrat and 31 percent Independent. In 2014, it was 37 percent Republican, 36 percent Democrat and 27 percent Independent.
2. “The outsider.” Johnson ran in 2010 as a political newcomer against Feingold, an 18-year veteran of the Senate. Since his loss, Feingold has been a U.S. envoy in Africa and a visiting college professor. Now campaigning as simply “Russ,” he’s trying to reclaim the newcomer mantle. Johnson bills himself as a “businessman,” eschewing his incumbent label and reminding voters he was the new kid six years ago.
3. Fundraising. Feingold held a fundraising and spending advantage in the 2010 matchup, with more than $20 million to Johnson’s $15 million. Through July’s filings with the Federal Elections Commission, that’s a similar pattern: Feingold has raised $15.6 million and Johnson $11.6 million.
4. Senate control. Wisconsin, once again, is a factor in the control of the U.S. Senate. In 2010, Republicans won 10 seats to take control of the Senate, accomplished by a strong conservative turnout nationwide. This year, the margin is smaller and Democrats hope to pick up four or five seats to reclaim the majority.
5. Polar opposites. There’s not much on which Johnson and Feingold have ever agreed—from trade to health care to national security. Wisconsin voters again have a clear choice between candidates.
1. Top of the ticket. Gov. Scott Walker vs. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was the race of the moment in 2010—and the “brown bag” Republican won. This year the marquee race will feature two largely unpopular presidential candidates in Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It’s unclear how they will affect voter turnout or other races.
2. Turnout. Johnson won the election in 2010 as part of a red wave that swept Republicans into office at all levels nationwide. Voter turnout in that election was about 2.1 million, low for a midterm election. Turnout in presidential years is much larger and could top 3 million in Wisconsin this year.
3. Tomah VA. The opiate scandal that rocked central Wisconsin has ensnared both candidates and become a major talking point. Competing ads place blame on who did less to stop the problem.
4. Look at my record. Johnson didn’t have a record to run on in 2010. Since then, he’s taken votes on gun control, the Affordable Care Act, national security and more. Feingold’s record—while years older—can now be contrasted to some of Johnson’s positions.
5. Poll numbers. Polling in the previous contest showed that Feingold led Johnson early by one or two points, but that Johnson led by one point in July 2010 and held that advantage until Election Day. There’s a different trend this time. An April 2015 Marquette University poll showed Feingold with a 16-point lead. That narrowed to five points in July and stood at four points in late-August.