Johnson eyes Feingold, but GOP primary comes firstMillionaire Ron Johnson put himself before voters Tuesday for the first time, hoping a spending blitz on campaign ads would translate to an easy victory in Wisconsin's Republican Senate primary and a fall matchup with Democrat Russ Feingold.
By: Dinesh Ramde, Associated Press Writer, Superior Telegram
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Millionaire Ron Johnson put himself before voters Tuesday for the first time, hoping a spending blitz on campaign ads would translate to an easy victory in Wisconsin's Republican Senate primary and a fall matchup with Democrat Russ Feingold.
Johnson, who made a fortune with his Oshkosh plastics company, poured $4.5 million into the race. That made him a prohibitive favorite against Dave Westlake, a small-business man and West Point graduate who ran a shoestring campaign on a budget of less than $100,000 and ran only one radio ad.
Both Johnson, 55, and Westlake, 36, are political neophytes. It was Johnson's wealth, and his willingness to spend it against Feingold, that helped him win the GOP's endorsement just six days after he entered the race.
A third Republican candidate, Milwaukee plumber Stephen Finn, has been largely invisible.
Johnson and Westlake agree on most issues. They both favor smaller government, oppose health care reform and criticize the way President Barack Obama has handled the war in Afghanistan. They also oppose abortion and have suggested the government overreacted in its response to BP PLC's spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Senate race could have important national implications. With 37 seats up this fall, Republicans need a net gain of 10 to take control of the chamber. Feingold had been seen as safe, but the anti-incumbent mood nationwide had pundits reassessing his vulnerability.
Feingold, 57, a three-term incumbent unopposed in the primary, has been a well-known maverick in his 18 years in the Senate. He worked with Republican Sen. John McCain on the campaign finance reform act that bears both their names, and he was the lone senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001.
More recently, he opposed Obama's bank bailout and approach to the war in Afghanistan. Feingold did back Obama's economic stimulus bill passed last year, but he has yet to get behind the president's $50 billion plan to bolster roads, runways and rail lines.
The race is likely to focus on jobs and the economy. Feingold might not be as vulnerable as some of his national colleagues in that area; the state's unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in July, nearly two points below last month's national average.