Russ Feingold hasn't announced he's running for his old U.S. Senate seat yet, but all signs say it's only a matter of time. And a poll of Wisconsin voters released on Thursday indicates he could fare well in the 2016 election.
If the 2016 U.S. Senate race were held today, Feingold, who recently left his post as the State Department's special envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa, would likely defeat Sen. Ron Johnson, the conservative Republican who unseated him in 2010, according to a Marquette University Law School Poll released Thursday.
Feingold, who has not said whether he plans to challenge Johnson, has the support of 54 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin. Thirty-eight percent of voters would support Johnson, while 9 percent have no preference.
"Election matchups at this point show us where candidates are lining up at the start of the race," said poll director Charles Franklin. "The eventual outcome, of course, depends on how they actually run the course. Having an early picture allows us to measure how the campaign changes voters’ preferences over time."
While Democrats are aggressively targeting Johnson, considered one of the most vulnerable senators up for re-election in 2016, Republicans have already started going after Feingold as the presumed challenger, painting him as an out-of-touch Washington insider.
Johnson's approval rating remains relatively unchanged since the last Marquette poll, conducted in October 2014. Thirty-two percent of voters view him favorably, compared to 33 percent six months ago. He is viewed unfavorably by 29 percent of voters, and 23 percent say they haven't heard enough about him or don't have an opinion.
Feingold, largely out of the spotlight since his defeat, holds a 47 percent approval rating. That's up from 42 percent in October. In the months between, whispers about a likely run have gotten louder. Twenty-six percent of voters view him unfavorably, and 26 percent voiced no opinion.
Though Johnson is the incumbent, it's not entirely unsurprising that more voters have opinions about Feingold. Before Johnson defeated him in the conservative wave of 2010, he'd held the Senate seat since 1993.
In the same poll, Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin's approval ratings were nearly evenly split. Thirty-nine percent said they view her favorably, while 38 view her unfavorably. Twenty-six percent voiced no opinion.