- Associated Press - Thursday, October 27, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s campaign announced Thursday that a positive television ad will soon return to the airways highlighting a program he spearheads to put unemployed inner-city Milwaukee residents back to work.

The move just 12 days before the election comes after Johnson’s Democratic challenger, former Sen. Russ Feingold, said the faith-based Joseph Project initiative doesn’t go far enough to address inner-city poverty.

Johnson seized on the comments, trying to make headway in a race where polls have consistently shown him trailing Feingold. He has sharpened his criticisms of Feingold in recent days, calling him a phony, elitist, hypocrite and liar. Feingold has said Johnson is lashing out in desperation.

A Marquette University Law School poll from two weeks ago showed the race was about even. But two polls since then show Feingold leading: A Monmouth University poll showed him ahead by eight points, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 points, while a St. Norbert University poll showed a 12-point lead, with an error margin of 3.8 points.

Johnson’s Joseph Project ad first ran in late September and came down on Oct. 5. It features participants in the program, which connects inner-city Milwaukee residents with jobs in Sheboygan, talking about how it’s helped them.

Johnson started the Joseph Project with Rev. Jerome Smith of the Greater Praise Church of God in Christ in Milwaukee.

“It is unfortunate that some people don’t really seem to understand the needs of our community,” Smith, who appears in the ad, said in a statement issued Tuesday. “The folks we work with love the Joseph Project, and I love the fact that it provides hope and opportunity for folks in our community who had been left to believe that all that was available to them was minimum wage, temp jobs, government programs, or crime.”

Feingold never criticized the program itself. Instead, he said it wasn’t enough to address all the problems inner cities face.

“It’s not enough to pick people up in a van and send them away a couple hours and have them come back exhausted at the end of the day,” Feingold told Wisconsin Public Radio in an interview that aired Tuesday.

Feingold, who served three terms in the Senate until being defeated by Johnson in 2010, called for a broader approach to combating poverty, including more investment in minority-owned businesses, community policing and increasing funding for public schools.

When asked about the program following a campaign stop Thursday in Milwaukee, Feingold said he wasn’t criticizing the program and called it a “made-up story.”

“It’s simply false. It’s intentionally misleading and they know it,” Feingold said. “It’s a good program, these programs are very valuable. There was no criticism of the program at all. What I suggested was clear: There needs to be much more done to make a community a community.”

Johnson is recirculating the ad as part of a seven-figure advertising buy in the final days of the campaign that also includes a negative digital ad campaign attacking Feingold over the comments.

Johnson also launched a new attack ad against Feingold on Thursday over the political action committee he founded after losing the 2010 Senate race. The ad criticizes Feingold’s Progressives United PAC for only giving about 5 percent of the money it raised to help federal candidates and political parties. Most of the rest went to salaries for Feingold, former staffers and fees.

Feingold has defended his PAC, which is no longer operating, saying it was “created to fight the corporate domination of our system that Senator Johnson supports.”

Feingold campaigned Thursday in Milwaukee with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin, Rep. Gwen Moore, of Milwaukee, and Sen. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, who held a rally for Hillary Clinton.

Johnson was campaigning Thursday in Chippewa Falls and near Wausau with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.


Associated Press writer Gretchen Ehlke contributed to this report from Milwaukee.


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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