Many voters may have experienced a sense of deja vu at the ballot box this November, as Republican Ron Johnson and Democrat Russ Feingold once again faced each other in a race for one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats.
Johnson, this time the incumbent, won in 2010 by knocking Feingold out of a seat the Middleton Democrat had held for 18 years. As the year began, the Marquette University Law School Poll showed Feingold with a strong chance of returning to Washington, with a 50-37 advantage over Johnson.
Both candidates continued to struggle with name recognition though among likely voters…with that January poll showing 40 percent didn’t know enough about Johnson to have an opinion of him, and 25 percent saying the same about Feingold. Feingold said he wasn’t concerned though. “I don’t assume people know who I am,” Feingold said. “That’s not something that just comes to you, you have to earn it.”
Polling in the coming months showed the race continuing to get closer, as Feingold and Johnson traded attacks over issues like the refusal of Republicans to vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Feingold attacked Johnson on the issue during a debate in October, arguing the late Justice Antonin Scalia would be “horrified” to see the damage Senate Republicans were doing to the institution. Johnson defended the tactic, siding with Republicans who argued the next president should decide the future direction of the high court.
The race continued to tighten, slipping into a virtual dead heat just a week before the election. Johnson then pulled ahead when it mattered most – on Election Day – winning a second term partially on the heels of Republican Donald Trump’s victory in the state. Speaking to supporters gathered in Oshkosh on election night, as the nation also watched Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump move closer to victory, Johnson called it a “big night for Wisconsin…a big night for America.”
Feingold seemed caught off-guard by the loss, telling supporters gathered in Madison that “I didn’t expect this outcome, to be honest with you…I’m sorry we didn’t get the job done.”
Johnson will be sworn in next year for a second six year term in the U.S. Senate, which he has said will be his last.