It's looking more and more likely that Wisconsin will be in the top tier of competitive Senate races this fall. Russ Feingold leads challenger Ron Johnson by only two points, 45-43. Johnson is polling closer to Feingold than Tommy Thompson was as he contemplated a potential campaign.
Wisconsin voters are evenly divided in their feelings about Feingold with 42% giving him good marks and 42% think he's doing a poor job. Feingold's reviews are nearly completely polarized along party lines, with 71% of Democrats approving of him and 72% of Republicans disapproving. Independents are also against him by a 39/46 margin, reflecting their unhappiness with most all incumbents across the country right now.
Johnson is largely unknown to voters in the state. 62% have no opinion of him. Among those who do feelings are pretty divided with 20% seeing him favorably and 18% unfavorably. Johnson's anonymity, in contrast to Thompson, may actually help GOP prospects for winning the seat. Thompson's popularity has been on the decline since he was elected to his 4th term as Governor, and our last poll before he decided not to run had found him with a negative 40/44 favorability spread. A fresher face may be helpful for Republicans as they try to pull off the upset in this race.
Matched head to head Feingold gets 83% of the Democratic vote while Johnson gets 78% of the Republicans. Johnson wins over independents 46-39. Feingold leads the other Republican candidate, Dave Westlake, by a wider45-38 margin. Numbers on the primary to be released later this week show that the race for the Republican nomination is not very competitive.
The potential competitiveness of this race may have more to do with Barack Obama's declining popularity in the state than anything Feingold himself has done. Obama won Wisconsin easily in 2008 but now has just a 45% approval rating with 50% of voters unhappy with his performance. 51% of voters are opposed to the health care bill to just 38% in support. In the places where Obama's fortunes are falling he's bringing the electoral prospects of Democratic candidates down with him.
Feingold is certainly still favored in the race, but it's likely to be a tougher road to reelection than he faced in 2004 and this could be one of the most closely watched races in the country if things develop such that this seat could determine whether Democrats remain in control of the Senate.
Full results here