- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

MILWAUKEE (AP) - As Russ Feingold aims to take back a highly contested U.S. Senate seat he lost in 2010, he says he will focus on listening to Wisconsin residents.

In his first public speaking appearance since announcing his candidacy, Feingold received a standing ovation Friday night at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention,

The auditorium was full of signs bearing his name and some attendees shouted, “We want Russ,” as Feingold spoke.

Feingold told the audience he would tour each of the state’s 72 counties in 2015, listening to residents, in an effort to better understand the state.

“But I won’t be going to each county to lecture people and tell them they just don’t understand America’s problems, or that they aren’t paying close enough attention,” Feingold said.

The Democrat sought to differentiate himself from his competitor, incumbent U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. Johnson, a Republican, defeated Feingold in 2010 by five points as part of the tea party Republican wave.

“We cannot afford any more politicians like Ron Johnson, who run for office, apparently only to serve people like themselves,” Feingold said. “We must seek to represent all Wisconsinites.”

Johnson, the chief executive of a plastics manufacturer in Oshkosh, on Friday dismissed as “completely meaningless” a Marquette University Law School poll from April that showed Feingold leading in the race, 54 percent to 38 percent. That same poll showed that 39 percent didn’t know enough about Johnson to form an opinion despite being in office more than four years. Johnson said he saw that as a “huge opportunity to reintroduce myself.”

But Democrats touted those poll numbers Friday night, saying the election should come sooner, guaranteeing Feingold’s victory.

Some, like U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, avoided uttering Johnson’s name Friday night. Moore also carried a shovel that she said Democrats would use to help voters mine for Feingold.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, said assuring Feingold’s victory in the election was imperative to help Democrats regain control of the Senate.

“If we want to stop this right wing rampage once and for all, we need to win back the Senate majority with this seat,” Baldwin told the audience. “That’s why Russ Feingold isn’t the only one waiting on you to deliver.”

But Johnson in a phone conference Friday said he can break the trend and become the first Republican to win election to the Senate in a presidential year in Wisconsin since 1980 by turning back Russ Feingold’s attempt to reclaim the seat he held for 18 years.

Johnson said the infrastructure laid by Republicans leading to gains in Congress, the state Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker’s three wins over four years will help him defeat Feingold next year.

“We’ve got an awful lot going for us,” Johnson said.

___

Associated Press reporter Scott Bauer in Madison also contributed to this report.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bydanaferguson

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