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Feingold early vote

Democratic former Sen. Russ Feingold holds a small rally in Middleton before casting his ballot.

Speaking to reporters Monday in Middleton, Democratic former Sen. Russ Feingold dismissed comments Republican Sen. Ron Johnson made about him over the weekend as the words of a candidate who senses he's about to lose.

Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board on Friday he does not respect Feingold because he doesn't "respect phoniness." He doubled down on the statement at campaign events throughout the weekend.

"I’ve not heard a lot of that kind of thing in the races I’ve been in in the past, but I realize when somebody’s desperate, when a politician feels like he’s probably going to lose, he gets a little shaky on that and starts maybe doing some things he shouldn’t do," Feingold said. "But look, it’s not my concern. I’m interested in making sure the people of the state get a vote once in a while for trying to make ends meet. That’s what this is about, not about personalities."

Feingold said Johnson's comments don't follow the lessons of civility his parents taught him, and said he wouldn't "get into that sort of thing."

"I respect Sen. Johnson, and I respect the office he holds, and I’m not going to go there," Feingold said. "I’m going to talk about the issues the people of the state are concerned about. I think the people deserve that kind of Senate candidate and that kind of a senator."

Feingold leads Johnson by two points among likely voters according to a Marquette University Law School poll released earlier this month. Johnson has cut into Feingold's advantage, but has not taken the lead in the Marquette poll during the course of the race.

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In addition to the "phony" remarks, Johnsons' campaign has been critical of a Feingold ad that accused the senator of "doing nothing" to address opioid abuse. 

Johnson's campaign responded with an ad of its own featuring a mother whose 19-year-old son died of a heroin overdose who argued Feingold's claim was "the furthest thing from the truth."

The Johnson campaign has called Feingold's ad "shameful," noting the senator introduced a bill that would require that pain management questions on patient surveys not factor into Medicare reimbursement calculations.

"All I can say is my heart goes out to the family for the loss that occurred. But of course we have to consider how people vote, that's the main issue. And on a number of occasions Sen. Johnson's had the opportunity to actually vote for the funding that would make a difference," Feingold said. "There was a bipartisan amendment offered by Sen. Baldwin and Sen. Portman and others, and when he had the chance to actually provide the resources for treatment and prevention, he voted no. This is about people's public record, and it's entirely fair to talk about somebody's public record."

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.