Russ Feingold (copy)

In this Nov. 2, 2010 file photo, then-Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., makes his concession speech to his supporters in Middleton, Wis., after losing to Republican challenger Ron Johnson for the Wisconsin U.S. Senate seat.

The rematch between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson has only been official for a few weeks, but everything is not awesome between the two camps.

While Russ Feingold sightings are becoming increasingly common at places like the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Union Terrace, farmers' markets and local businesses, Republicans are seeking to portray the former U.S. Senator as an outsider to Wisconsin.

"Welcome back to Wisconsin, Russ," says a billboard that went up Monday in Milwaukee. "It's been a while..."

The sign, funded by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, puts Feingold's face next to an outline of the state of California and rows of palm trees. 

The billboard will stay up for a week, timed to coincide with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin convention this weekend. It's located at the 84th Street exit of I-94, and the NRSC plans to run similar ads online.

"After wrapping up a lucrative stay at Stanford University in California, it only seems appropriate to put out the welcome mat upon Russ Feingold's move back to Wisconsin," NRSC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said in a statement. "Feingold’s decision to run for Senate is just another reminder that he’s nothing more than another out of touch, opportunistic, career politician."

Feingold announced earlier this month that he will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in 2016. Feingold, 62, served three terms in the Senate between 1993 and 2011. Johnson, 60, ousted him with a five-point victory in the conservative wave of 2010.

Johnson, who ran as a businessman seeking to make change in Washington, has been deemed one of the most vulnerable senators up for re-election in 2016.

In March, Feingold left his post as the State Department's special envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa. He's currently wrapping up a semester of teaching at Stanford University.

Feingold's team dismissed the California-centric criticism.

"Russ Feingold is traveling to all 72 of Wisconsin counties so he can listen to and act on the concerns of working families from all corners of the state," said campaign manager Tom Russell in an email. "That’s what Wisconsin families expect from their senator. If Ron Johnson and his rich special interest buddies want to waste their millions complaining about 'The Lego Movie' and buying weird, angry billboards, they are welcome to keep doing it."

The Lego jab is a reference to comments Johnson made last week to WisPolitics.com after addressing the Milwaukee Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Johnson told the political news service the U.S. has a "cultural attitude" that "government is good and business is bad," using "The Lego Movie" as an example. 

The 2014 family film, co-written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, tells the story of a Lego construction worker named Emmet who teams up with a rebel Lego named Wyldstyle to save the world from the tyrannical Lord Business.

"That's done for a reason," Johnson told WisPolitics. "They're starting that propaganda, and it's insidious."

After Johnson's comments gained some traction as the result of a Huffington Post article, the senator doubled down on his position in a post on his Senate blog.

"Some liberal writer at the Huffington Post was excited to find out that I’ve been talking to Wisconsinites about how enthusiastically the entertainment media spread a 'business is bad' message," Johnson wrote.

Johnson cited several columns to back up his anti-"Lego Movie" argument.

"The strange thing isn’t that a kids’ movie was anti-business, it is that someone claiming to be a journalist never encountered the idea before," Johnson wrote.

The Daily Beast's Asawin Suebsaeng spoke with the movie's directors in February, after Fox Business ran a segment critical of the movie for reasons similar to Johnson's argument.

"Art deserves many interpretations, even wrong ones," Lord wrote on Twitter.

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Jessie Opoien is the Capital Times' opinion editor. She joined the Cap Times in 2013, covering state government and politics for the bulk of her time as a reporter. She has also covered music, culture and education in Madison and Oshkosh.