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Feingold Takes Time To Rally Volunteers In Campaign’s Closing Days

Supporters Working Overtime To Put Democrat Back In The Senate

Shawn Johnson/WPR

With the race for Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seat locked in a statistical dead heat, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democrat Russ Feingold are crisscrossing the state making their final pitches to voters. Wisconsin Public Radio spent a day on the road with both campaigns during the last weekend before Election Day.

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold started his Sunday before Election Day in Hudson, where he was introduced to a crowd of about 30 at the local Democratic Party office by former Minneapolis Mayor and current Democratic National Committee Vice Chair R.T. Rybak.

“No other Senate race is more important than this one,” Rybak said.

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When Feingold spoke, he hit populist tones that served him well in his first three U.S. Senate campaigns. He said he’s not done with campaign finance reform, one of his signature issues before he left the Senate after losing to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in 2010.

“If I win, if I’m sworn in, I’m going to walk right across the room … and find maybe John McCain if he wins or whoever is there, I’m going to work on a bipartisan basis to make sure that we get rid of this garbage in our political system,” Feingold told the enthusiastic volunteers.

As soon as Feingold left, some volunteers grabbed phones and start making get-out-the-vote calls. Others grabbed clipboards and headed out to knock on doors.

St. Croix County Democratic Party Chair Rebecca Bonesteel ran through pointers with volunteers and gave them a pep talk.

“Normally we hit our really good strong voters. What we’re going to hit today are the people who need a little push to get them out to vote.” Bonesteel said. “So what you guys are doing today could make all the difference in the world to this race.”

Roy Sjoberg of Hudson said he was working a nine-hour shift. He wouldn’t say he’s nervous about Feingold’s close race, “But I’ll say I’m anxious, and I want to do everything I can to make sure that I don’t wake up on Wednesday morning and say, oh, he lost by 20 votes. What I’m going to do today walking around, I bet I’m going to scare up another 20 votes for Russ today.”

At Feingold’s next stop, in Eau Claire, he greeted a group of about a dozen college students outside a house where people were doing get-out-the-vote work in the basement. Feingold said he wants them to work like he’s behind. But he also reassured them.

“We are at the absolute moment where you guys should feel like you have victory here just within your grasp, both at the presidential level and in our race as well as many other races,” he said.

Eighteen-year-old University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student Anna Schmidt is voting for Feingold for the first time this year, but she knew about him growing up.

“I remember my mother drove this Subaru when I was little and she had a Russ Feingold sticker,” Schmidt said. “I asked her one time who he was, and she said he is a very good man who does very good work.”

Schmidt didn’t have much time to talk. She said she’s volunteering 13-15 hours every day through Election Day to get out the vote for Democrats.

From Eau Claire, Feingold visited the Portage County Democratic Party in Stevens Point.

There, as at every stop, he attacked Johnson as out of touch on several issue, from the minimum wage to paid family leave.

“You don’t have a prayer with Ron Johnson on any of those issues,” Feingold said. “We know this. It’s not like we’re wondering how he’ll vote.”

Bill LeGrande of Stevens Point has been driving volunteers to canvas. He said it’s critical that Feingold and Hillary Clinton both win.

“I think it’s imperative that we have a Senate (majority) at least, or nothing will change and it will be obstruction, gridlock, and nothing will get done,” LeGrande said.

He described this campaign with a quote from the civil rights struggle: “You know we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. And that’s how we’re feeling about this election.”

Less than 20 minutes after Feingold arrived, he left for another city, off to thank more volunteers who are giving their time to help him.