Election 2004: Is Wisconsin a Microcosm?

[ Stauber argues that a more progressive Democratic candidate could have won in swing states Kerry lost. Look at what happened in Wisconsin, where voters re-elected their progressive anti-war, pro-civil liberties Senator, Russ Feingold by a relatively comfortable margin: It appears Kerry won the presidential contest there by a razor-thin margin, perhaps unable to muster support from progressives. Much of the blame for the loss surely goes to the Democratic Party leadership, which, together with the media, sunk Ship Dean, which was on course to mobilize many more young voters. –BL ]

3 Nov. 2004 | Alternet

by John Stauber

Only one U.S. Senator had the courage and the commitment to civil liberties to vote against the Patriot Act in the weeks after the terror attacks of 9/11. Pop quiz, quick, name that Senator! If you said the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, you’d be wrong. Even the feisty progressive from Minnesota failed to oppose John Ashcroft’s attack on civil liberties sold as essential to fight Bush’s war on terror.

The lone opponent of the Patriot Act was Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Wellstone’s colleague across the Mississippi River.

Fast forward to the fall of 2002 and the run-up to Bush’s war on Iraq. Democratic senators, including Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, John Edwards and John Kerry all voted to give President Bush the authority to attack Saddam Hussein. Russ Feingold voted against the war. I spoke at the time with a Feingold staff member who worried that these two votes would doom Feingold in his 2004 race for re-election. “We’ll be bashed viciously as weak on terror and anti-war, they’ll trash us mercilessly and it will cost Russ his race.”

Probably just what advisors to Kerry and Edwards were thinking. Indeed, Feingold’s 2004 opponent Republican Tim Michels, a millionaire construction company owner and a former US Army Ranger, beat three Republicans to win his party’s nomination. Michels dumped over a million dollars of his own money into an aggressive advertising campaign skewering Feingold as weak on terror and not supportive of the troops. However, when the polls closed at 8 PM on November 2nd, with no votes even counted yet, all the major media declared the race over and predicted Feingold’s victory based on the exit polls alone.

John Kerry voted for the Patriot Act and the war, and was barely beating George Bush in Wisconsin. The lesson is this: Russ Feingold proves that an anti-war, populist Democrat, a maverick campaigning to get big money out of politics, can win and win big. But given a choice between a real Republican and a Democrat such as John Kerry who acts like a Republican, many voters will choose the Republican. Progressives looking for a viable candidate for the presidency in the future should not overlook the man from Middleton, Wisconsin, Russ Feingold.

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