Sen. Russ Feingold, the top Democratic candidate statewide in Wisconsin this year, is sitting on the horns of a dilemma as the Iowa caucus gets underway today. Feingold really likes the socialist policies of Bernie Sanders, but he has a relationship with the powerful and vindictive Hillary Clinton. As the pair face off today in neighboring Iowa, Feingold is struggling to not alienate any part of the Democratic party as he works to take out Sen. Ron Johnson (R) in a re-match six years in the making.
The struggle Feingold faces is one Democrats across the country face. In his heart, Feingold genuinely believes that Sanders, if not his personality then his policies, represent the next best step for the country. After losing re-election in 2010, Feingold started Progressives United PAC, a vehicle for continuing his involvement in Democratic politics. In January 2015, Progressives United gave Sanders $1,000.
Last week at a Milwaukee event, Feingold praised Sanders, calling him an “honorable person” and saying he felt a kinship with the self-described socialists. Straying from his talking point, Feingold even said he and Sanders “held out” for a single-payer option in ObamaCare when it was passed in 2009. Even amid the historic federal government power grab that was the Affordable Care Act, a single-payer option was viewed as so extreme it could threaten the legislation’s passage even in a Democrat-controlled Congress.
But despite his fondness for the open socialism of the aged Sanders, Feingold does have to weigh the awful consequences of challenging the Clinton machine.
According to an e-mail from Clinton’s personal e-mail server, Feingold reached out to then-Secretary of State Clinton asking for a personal meeting in 2009. An e-mail from Huma Abedin, a Clinton confidant and aide, to Clinton’s “[email protected]” account, Feingold wanted to talk or meet with Clinton between 8am and 9am on Sunday, August 2.
Clinton’s ownership and use of private, unsecure e-mail accounts and personal e-mail servers has become a major issue for her on the presidential campaign trail. At least 1,600 of Clinton’s private e-mails were classified, and on Friday it was reported that at least 22 of the e-mails she sent or received on her private server were “Top Secret” or higher in their classification. It is illegal to send or receive classified government information on a personal or unsecured e-mail system.
Just how long Feingold will continue to walk the tightrope between Sanders and Clinton depends on how long the Democratic presidential primary lasts. But as the race sweeps across the country and comes closer to Wisconsin (which votes on April 5), the baggage of both candidates will threaten Feingold, who needs to run as a very independent Democrat to beat Johnson and recapture his old Senate seat.