Sabato's Crystal Ball

Wisoncsin Senate 2004

Democrat Russ Feingold defends his seat against Tim Michels

UVA Center for Politics October 22nd, 2004

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For years, Senator Russ Feingold has proven himself as a tenacious underdog who has always beat the odds. He squeaked his way through a three-way Democratic primary with less money than his opponents by using quirky, catchy television ads as his two opponents tore each other apart. He then went on to unseat Senator Bob Kansten in 1992. Four years later, he managed to defend his newfound seat with 51 percent of the vote, weathering a nasty, negative campaign from Republican nominee, congressman Mark Neumann. Now, he faces former Army Ranger and businessman Tim Michels.

As a two-term incumbent and the recipient of a late conclusion for the Republican primary, Feingold is sitting a little more easily than past campaigns. After the last campaign, when he weathered the negative onslaught by Neumann, the Wisconsin senator is battle-hardened and a proven crusader for governmental reform.

Tim Michels has assaulted Feingold heavily on issues of homeland security and counterterrorism, citing Feingold’s votes against the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security. With Bush polling well in Wisconsin, pushing the state into the toss-up column, Michels may ride in Bush’s coattails if the president takes Wisconsin, especially if terrorism persists as the top issue.

However, even as Bush pushes strongly in the Wisconsin, Feingold is polling persistently well and looks poised to have an even stronger victory than he did in 1998. It is hard to see a Bush victory–which will be tight, according to recent polls–enough for Michels to overcome Russell Feingold.