Friday, October 15, 2004

Wisconsin’s Sen. Russell D. Feingold is in a solid position to retain his seat, Democrats say, citing Republican candidate Tim Michels’ poor poll numbers and the decision this week by a national Republican group not to run ads on its candidate’s behalf.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) this week canceled more than $1.2 million in television advertising reserved to run on Mr. Michels’ behalf in the weeks before the election, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“That tells you in and of itself all you need to know about which direction the Wisconsin Senate race is going,” said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

But Mr. Michels, a millionaire construction company owner, has plenty of money and Republicans are hardly giving up.

“This race is not over. I don’t believe anyone in Wisconsin is writing this off,” said Tim Roby, spokesman for Mr. Michels’ campaign. “The Michels campaign is well-funded.”

Chris Lato, spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican Party, said Mr. Michels — who has given about $2 million of his own money to finance his campaign — “pulled through with flying colors” at the last minute in the primary, and likely will do the same in the general election.

“He is a great family man, a great military man, a great businessman; we think he’s going to be great as our next U.S. senator,” Mr. Lato said.

Mr. Michels and the two-term Democratic senator square off in a debate today and another one tomorrow. The latest polls, taken at the end of September, had Mr. Feingold ahead by double digits. Mr. Feingold’s camp says their internal polls show a similar spread, but Mr. Roby said the race is in single digits and within striking distance, according to their internal polls.

Wisconsin is a key battleground state for the presidential election and both President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry are visiting and flooding Wisconsin airwaves with ads.

Mr. Roby said that helps them raise money and awareness for Mr. Michels, but also can drown out the Senate race with presidential ads.

On Friday, Mr. Kerry was in Milwaukee and Mr. Bush was in Oshkosh. Mr. Michels, who spent 12 years in the army, spoke at Mr. Bush’s event yesterday and at another presidential campaign stop in the state last week.

Education Secretary Rod Paige also joined Mr. Michels in a state campaign event this week.

Mr. Feingold’s campaign is “not taking anything for granted,” said spokesman John Kraus. While they feel “very good” about where things stand, the race will “be decided on the ground in the last weeks,” he said.

Mr. Feingold is no stranger to a tight race — he managed to beat Republican Rep. Mark Neumann after a close contest in 1998.

The Feingold camp has raised about $9 million for the current race and the Michels’ camp raised about $5 million, including Mr. Michels’ own money.

Mr. Michels has promised job creation and lower taxes and has said Mr. Feingold votes for higher taxes and has a weak defense record. Mr. Feingold also was the lone senator to vote against the Patriot Act, which gave law enforcement more leeway to pursue suspected terrorists, and Mr. Michels has made this a central issue in the campaign as well.

Mr. Feingold, a lawyer, has touted the passage of the massive campaign finance overhaul law that bears his name, and has said his opponent would simply be a yes-man for Mr. Bush.

“People are not going to elect a rubber stamp for George Bush; that’s not what they want,” Mr. Kraus said.

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