Throughout the election, Senator Feingold has attacked Ron Johnson for just about everything you can think of, but one of the ones that is most obnoxious is the notion that Russ Feingold - perhaps the most popular Progressive in the nation - is an underdog and an outsider. The notion that Feingold has to endure lonely lunches in DC is laughable. He's a 3-term Senator with his name on one of the most substantive and controversial pieces of legislation in this century. Sen. Feingold is a lot of things, but a pariah in Washington is not one of them.
Another one of the Feingold campaign's favorite myths - and one that his supporters love to repeat - is that he is the underdog and a Quixotic crusader against the special interests. Feingold himself has said that he's been outspent in every election and he will be again.
But here's the problem: it's a lie.
In Feingold's first election in 1992, he really was outspent. Incumbent Sen. Kasten spent nearly three times as Feingold - $5.9 million to $2 million.
In 1998, Feingold spent $3.846 million on the race and Mark Neumann spent $4.373 million. Feingold was outspent in the calendar year, but he finished the race with nearly three-quarters of a million on hand. He could have easily matched Neumann's total had he wanted. This was also the last time anyone would outspend Feingold in a head to head race.
In 2004, businessman Tim Michels spent a whopping $5.527 million, including $2.43 million of his own money. For a state like Wisconsin, that's a huge sum and not surprising given the bruising primary battle that year. Even so, Sen. Feingold made Michels look like a pauper. The man who gave us campaign finance reform doubled his opponent's spending and dropped $11.23 million to keep his seat in Washington. That's a lot of money to keep on eating alone.
Fast forward to this year and the story is much the same. Again, Feingold faces a wealthy challenger who helped build a successful business, and again, Feingold is outspending him by more than a million dollars. The most recent figures show that Feingold has spent more than $6.196 million and holds a staggering $3.087 million on hand. Johnson has spent a lot of money too, $4.55 million, but he holds only $1.614 million in reserves. That cash advantage is not easy to dismiss, and though it won't be as lopsided as 2004, I find it hard to believe that Feingold will be outspent by Johnson - remember, most of Johnson's spending has been to introduce himself to voters. After 18 years, there's not a lot to introduce for Feingold.
Which brings us to a final point. One of the biggest Feingold talking points has been to label Johnson a tool of the "special interests." Well, let's look at that, shall we? Most people would consider PACs to be special interests, as they are often the political arm of unions and advocacy groups. This year, Sen. Feingold has raised more than $600,000 of PAC money. Ron Johnson? $92,750. Over the course of his 18 years in the Senate, Feingold has received more than $2.55 million in PAC contributions. Not exactly chump change.
I guess my point is that if you accept the argument that where a politician gets his money defines him, what special interest does Ron Johnson serve? Is he just so narcissistic that he wants to buy an election because he thinks he deserves it? Being a businessman, I'm sure he could find better uses for $4.55 million, but maybe he actually thinks that the country really is in financial peril and Russ Feingold is part of the problem. No, that can't be it. He's just another evil Republican, right? Of course, because in Russ Feingold's world, only he and his fellow Progressives care about the country...