Going into the home stretch, things are looking good for Ron Johnson in Wisconsin's U.S. Senate race.
How do we arrive at those numbers? I don't think it's the Tea Party factor alone.
Talking to a number of swing voter types in the state, I've found a few still-undecided individuals who aren't averse to Johnson, but who find that, when it comes down to it, "Feingold really hasn't ever done anything mean to anyone. He's pretty independent."
My take: I just don't think that's enough of a justification to retain a U.S. Senator. And I think some truly independent voters are looking not just at Feingold when they cast their ballots this fall, but the current composition of the state's full delegation.
Part of the calculus, I think, has to include a look at the state's overall representation in the U.S. Senate. Senator Feingold referenced Senator Kohl in the last debate...and I think it's good he brought him up to remind us that he exists. Even if one stipulates that Feingold is a more independent Democrat than many, it seems appropriate that the electorate in a purple state like Wisconsin might seek to balance its aggregate representation in the Senate. My pitch to the moderates and independents out there: Ron Johnson brings that overall balance to the delegation as a whole, even if Feingold appears to be a maverick individual.
In other words, it might make sense for independents and moderates seeking balance to retain Feingold...if the other sitting Senator was someone who fit the mold of Ron Johnson or was even more conservative. As it is, the state has Herb Kohl - who, last time I checked, was not exactly a Jesse Helms. Altogether, the state's current representation is rather reliably liberal at present, even with Feingold's quirks.
I think that's part of what makes the decision to support Johnson less difficult for independents and moderates out there. His election won't skew Wisconsin's overall representation in the U.S. Senate. If anything, it will balance it out quite well...and reflect the state's electorate a bit more accurately.
For libertarians who see divided government as a healthy check on the power of the federal government (with respect to both the overall Senate balance and the Legislative/Executive balance), the decision should be even easier - again, even if Feingold, as a individual, opposed the Patriot Act on civil liberty grounds. In the grand scheme of diffusing power, electing Ron Johnson may actually be the best move.
If the state had three seats in the Senate, Feingold might make a decent pitch to fit the seat in the middle with all his mavericking. But as it is, there are only two slots. And I think that reality, not just the Tea Party surge alone, undergirds part of the consistent polling strength for Ron Johnson.