Herb Kohl leads a trio of potential Republican foes for reelection in 2012 and if he steps aside outgoing Senator Russ Feingold leads all of them too.
Kohl would begin in a pretty solid position if he did decide to seek reelection. 50% of voters approve of the job he's doing to 35% who disapprove. Most striking are his strong numbers with independents, 51% of whom approve of him to only 32% disapproving. That's good news for Kohl shortly after an election season where those voters gravitated toward Republican candidates. Kohl's numbers with partisan identifiers are pretty predictable- Democrats pretty universally approve of him (80%) and Republicans for the most part disapprove of him (66%).
Kohl leads hypothetical 2012 contests against Congressman Paul Ryan, former Governor Tommy Thompson, and Attorney General JB Van Hollen by margins ranging from 6 to 13 points. Ryan does the best, trailing only 48-42. Thompson faces a 49-40 deficit, perhaps another reminder that Republicans were better off this year with a fresh face in Ron Johnson than they would have been with trotting Thompson back out there. Van Hollen trails 51-38.
Although Kohl's leads are largely attributable to his popularity, part of it can probably be chocked up to the Republicans other than Thompson being relatively unknown. 33% of voters in the state don't know enough about Ryan to have formed an opinion of him- among those who do have one 38% see him favorably and 30% unfavorably. Van Hollen is even less well known- 39% have no opinion about him with those who do breaking down 32% positive to 29% negative.
What might be most interesting in this poll is how Russ Feingold does as a possible alternative should Kohl retire. His approval rating is 50% with 43% of voters disapproving of him. Those numbers might seem amazing barely a month after he was defeated for reelection but it's a reminder just how different the midterm electorate was from the state's voters as a whole. Republicans were much more energized to go to the polls than Democrats this year and because of that Feingold lost but his popularity with Wisconsin voters overall is not too bad.
Feingold polls similarly to Kohl in head to head match ups against the Republicans, leading Ryan by 7 points, Thompson by 9 points, and Van Hollen by 11 points. Despite his setback this year it looks like he could potentially be a formidable candidate again in the future.
2012 is a long ways off but at this early point it looks like Wisconsin's Republican swing in 2010 may have been more of a blip than a signal of an emerging trend.
Full results here