Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Feingold emerging as alternative to Clinton"

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
When Democratic voters in the state of Washington were polled last month about the 2008 presidential race, their top choice was Hillary Clinton.

No shock there.

The surprise involved another Senate Democrat.

Wisconsin's Russ Feingold was named by 11% of those surveyed, behind only Clinton (31%), Al Gore (19%) and John Edwards (12%), three far more prominent political figures.

"He seems to have a dedicated following," said David Johnson, whose polling in a half-dozen states has charted a small but steady uptick in Feingold's numbers since last fall.

More than a year into the process of testing the presidential waters, the junior senator from Wisconsin remains a dark horse in a field studded with bigger names and deeper pockets. Many party insiders are hugely skeptical of his prospects.

But at the same time, Feingold has begun to build a constituency outside Wisconsin and has positioned himself to play a potentially significant role in the race for the Democratic nomination.

His early call for withdrawal from Iraq, his filibuster against the USA Patriot Act and his push to censure the president over wiretapping have made him a favorite of liberal bloggers and online activists, who constitute a rising voice in the party.

Time and again, he has used his position as minority lawmaker to raise his national profile, set himself apart from other senators and carve out a political identity that has obvious appeal to many in the party's base.

"He has had a good year," said GOP pollster Bill McInturff, who has worked for dark horse candidates on the Republican side, most recently John McCain in 2000. Just as McCain's objective was to wind up as the alternative to front-runner George W. Bush in the GOP primaries, Feingold will be vying to be the "Clinton alternative" for Democratic voters, especially for those on the anti-war left, say analysts in both parties.

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