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Russ Feingold Leads in Wisconsin — and he May Have Donald Trump to Thank

Can Donald Trump help a Jewish candidate in a tight U.S. Senate race?

Russ Feingold, a three-term senator who lost his Wisconsin seat in 2010, has found Trump’s controversial statements a useful tool in his effort to win back his seat.

Directing his criticism at incumbent senator Ron Johnson, Feingold took issue at his rival’s support for Trump despite the presumptive nominee’s racially-charged rhetoric. “Sen. Johnson said that if Trump said or did anything that ‘crossed a line,’ he’d have to withdraw his support for the Republican nominee,” Feingold’s spokesman Michael Tyler said earlier this month, following Trump’s accusations against a judge of Mexican heritage who had ruled against him in the Trump University lawsuit. “It’s clear from his response that racist comments from Trump don’t rise to that level for Sen. Johnson.”

And at least so far, this line of campaigning seems to be working for Feingold. A new Marquette poll published Wednesday shows the Jewish former senator from Middletown holds a steady, albeit small, lead over Johnson, an Oshkosh businessman. Among registered voters Feingold leads by 5% but his advantage increases to 9% when the poll zoomed in on voters likely to actually participate in the elections.

At stake in the Wisconsin race is not only Feingold’s political fate. Democrats are pinning their hopes on his win as a crucial stepping-stone toward taking over the Senate majority.

Feingold and Johnson are both trying to distance themselves from the unpopular nominees chosen by their parties for presidency and from any semblance of being professional politicians. Campaign ads that started airing in Wisconsin this month show both candidates in their home towns, ignoring their years-long record in Washington.

Johnson, after being hit by Feingold for his backing of Donald Trump, used a similar measure to swipe back at the Democratic candidate. “When is Senator Feingold going to withdraw his support for a candidate under investigation by the FBI for email practices that jeopardized our national security?” asked Johnson’s spokesman Brian Reisinger.

Wisconsin is viewed by both presidential campaigns as a key state and was scheduled to serve as the venue for President Obama’s first rally alongside presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. The event was cancelled following the Orlando shooting attack.

Contact Nathan Guttman at [email protected] or on Twitter @nathanguttman

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