Incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and his Democratic challenger, former Sen. Russ Feingold, showcased clearly opposing views during their final debate Tuesday night at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee.
In the 90-minute debate, Johnson and Feingold sparred over the future of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s pending appointment to the United States Supreme Court, raising the minimum wage and immigration.
In a reprise of his successful 2010 campaign, which unseated Feingold after 18 years in the senate, Johnson positioned himself as a pragmatic Washington outsider.
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“I’m a change agent,” Johnson said. “If you want the status quo, if you think everything’s just wonderful in Washington, D.C., then you’re probably going to support a 34-year career politician.”
Feingold hit back by saying Johnson will vote for big business interests in Washington, and at the expense of Wisconsinites.
“Senator Johnson has voted with the corporations and the billionaires and multi-millionaires,” Feingold said. “That’s the fundamental issue: who is the Senator going to vote with?”
Johnson and Feingold came down on clearly opposing sides on a number of issues, including the future of the ACA.
Johnson called the program a “completely unworkable system … in its death spiral right now.”
Feingold said he supports making reforms to the existing system, including measures to control rising deductible costs.
The candidates also disagreed on how to spur economic growth. Johnson pointed to cutting back on regulation; Feingold reaffirmed his commitment to raising the minimum wage.
Johnson said he would support raising the minimum wage by tying it with inflation, but opposes a large increase, saying it would result in job losses.
Feingold also hit Johnson for joining with other senators to delay a vote on Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Feingold said Johnson’s lack of action on the nomination “disqualifies” him from holding office.
“I will only vote to confirm judges, not liberal activists,” Johnson said, adding he believes it’s “fair” to delay a vote on Garland until after the Nov. 8 election.
“The American people decide,” Johnson said. “I can’t think of a fairer process than that.”
The candidates also drew hard lines on immigration and border control. Feingold said he supports comprehensive immigration reform; Johnson touted his support of a guest worker program.
The candidates were also asked to reiterate their allegiance to their party’s presidential nominee.
“I’m not going to defend the indefensible,” Johnson said of GOP nominee Donald Trump’s comments about women.
Johnson said he still supports Trump, however, and sees him as a fellow “change agent” in Washington.
Responding to Trump’s recent allegations the election is “rigged,” Johnson said he didn’t believe that to be true, but agreed with other public complaints made recently by the GOP nominee.
“It’s definitely a legitimate point to talk about the bias in the media,” Johnson said.
Johnson also hit Feingold for his support of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, calling her untrustworthy.
“She’s not perfect, but she’s so much better than Donald Trump,” Feingold said.
According the latest Marquette University Law School poll, Feingold is leading Johnson by two points, within the poll’s margin of error.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 12:06 a.m. Wednesday with additional reporting.
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