Although an announcement of his decision won’t come until Labor Day, former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold appears to be uninterested in launching another campaign for the Senate.
Feingold, a hero to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, would likely win a resounding victory in the primary to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl.
A Public Policy Polling survey of Democrats released in late May showed that Feingold would have 70 percent support, while 12 percent would prefer Rep. Tammy Baldwin. Baldwin led the field when Feingold wasn’t included in the poll.
Baldwin, unlike Feingold, hasn’t been shy about sharing her intentions. She told the Capital Times this week that “I think I am likely to run.” Baldwin would be the first openly gay senator if elected.
According to Jerilyn Goodman, Baldwin’s communications director, the congresswoman has spoken with Feingold, who encouraged her not to wait for his decision before launching a bid.
“He told her what he’s told any candidate who has approached him: ‘Go ahead and do what you need to do, because there is a lot of work to do and people can’t wait for his decision to start organizing,’” Goodman told TheDC.
“He’s given that same encouragement to other candidates,” Goodman said, making clear that there was no implicit endorsement.
Rep. Ron Kind, a moderate Wisconsin Democrat, is also “carefully considering” a run for the seat, a spokesman said.
Political scientist Kenneth R. Mayer told TheDC, “I don’t think Feingold is going to run, though the word on the street is that he’s 50-50.” (Feingold raising money to ’shame’ former Democratic colleagues)
Mayer, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that 2012 isn’t likely to be a good year for Wisconsin Democrats and that Feingold would “be reluctant to go down in history as losing two straight Senate elections.”
Barry C. Burden, also a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that “had Feingold shown interest in the Senate seat, Baldwin would probably not consider it seriously.”
Feingold’s apparent lack of interest in the race “is opening the door for her to pursue it,” Burden said. “The only other candidate who might complicate things is Ron Kind, who represents a different segment of the Democratic Party.”
The Senate election isn’t the only option that’s been floated for Feingold’s political future. Supporters have relished the idea of Feingold leading the charge to oust Republican Gov. Scott Walker in a recall election next year.
Both Burden and Mayer pointed to the August recall election against six state senators as an important barometer that will guide candidates’ political calculations.
A spokesman for Progressives United, the former senator’s political action committee, confirmed that Feingold intends to officially announce his decision on the Senate run around Labor Day.