- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold’s campaign manager said Monday that Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is running a “low energy campaign” and if outside support dries up, “he can always ride Donald Trump’s coattails.”

The snarky jabs at Johnson, referring to Trump’s own assessment of former presidential rival Jeb Bush as “low energy,” came in a memo emailed Monday from Feingold’s campaign manager Tom Russell.

In the memo, addressed to interested parties, Russell touts a pair of polls released last week showing Feingold leading Johnson in the rematch of their 2010 race.

Campaigns typically downplay bad poll numbers and temper their reactions to positive ones, especially when they come nearly five months before an election. But Russell chose to crow on Monday given that the positive poll numbers came after Johnson’s allies spent millions on new attack ads in the race.

Russell said the ads from independent groups backing Johnson totaled $5 million, compared with roughly $1 million Feingold has spent since Wisconsin’s primary on April 5. The ads benefiting Johnson have come from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group funded by Charles and David Koch, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Freedom Partners Action Fund, Let America Work and the Judicial Crisis Network.

Russell said the outside money for Johnson was meant to “breathe life into his low-energy campaign.”

Feingold’s campaign has also benefited from spending by independent groups.

Johnson’s campaign cited six outside groups backing Feingold that it said had spent at least $2 million by the end of 2015. They are American Bridge 21st Century, the League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Defense Action Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice, VoteVets.Org and Planned Parenthood.

In a statement Monday to The Associated Press, Johnson’s campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, dismissed the polls cited by Feingold as “meaningless.” She also downplayed last week’s Marquette University Law School poll in a separate message sent to Johnson supporters over the weekend.

“Public polling has been even more erratic than usual this cycle and we all know this race will go down to the wire, so we don’t spend too much time on the ups or downs or the national winds,” Ankney said in that message. “We’re executing our plan and getting our message out and that’s where our focus will remain.”

The race was statistically unchanged among registered voters since a before the primary and the start of the spending spree by Johnson’s allies. The Marquette poll show that Feingold was ahead by 5 percentage points in March and by 4 points last week. But among likely voters, Feingold’s lead went from 3 points in March to 9 points last week.

That number demonstrates the enthusiasm gap, as more Democrats than Republicans indicated in the June poll that they were certain to vote.

Those poll results, taken together with Trump’s low numbers, led Feingold’s campaign manager to unleash the sarcastic jab at Johnson.

“Of course, if the Koch brothers can’t keep Senator Johnson in Washington, he can always ride Donald Trump’s coattails,” Russell said at the conclusion of his memo.

The Marquette poll showed Trump trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin by 9 points among likely voters.

Johnson supports Trump for president, but says that’s different from endorsing him, which he has not done. Johnson told CNN on Sunday that “To me, endorsement is a big embrace. It basically shows that I pretty well agree with an individual on almost everything. That’s not necessarily going to be the case with our nominee.”


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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