The polls suggested he could be elected to an open US Senate seat or that he could beat Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in a recall election. And there were more than a few activists on the national scene who entertained the less likely dream that he might make a presidential bid as a progressive reformer.
But former US Senator Russ Feingold has chosen another political role for 2012: citizen.
In an e-mail that supporters in Wisconsin and across the country will receive Friday morning, Feingold writes: “I have decided not to run for public office during 2012.”
“This was a difficult decision, as I thoroughly enjoyed my tenure in both the State Senate and the U.S. Senate, and I know that progressives are eager to reverse some of the outrageous policies being pursued by corporate interests at both the state and federal levels. I am also well aware that I have a very strong standing in the polls should I choose to run again for the U.S. Senate or in a recall election for governor,” says the former three-term senator who was defeated in the “Republican wave” election but then quickly rebounded to become a popular prospect for the marquee races of next year: as the Democratic nominee to fill the seat that will be vacated by US Senator Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin, or the party’s candidate in an effort to oust the controversial governor. “After twenty-eight continuous years as an elected official, however, I have found the past eight months to be an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective.”
Feingold’s decision marks the end of speculation about his potential candidacies—for now, as he says in his e-mail: “I may seek elective office again someday.” But it also sets off a rush by other candidates, including Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, an all-but-announced contender for the Senate seat, as well as other prospects such as Congressman Ron Kind, D-LaCrosse, and former Congressman Steve Kagen, D-Appleton. Republicans, such as former Governor Tommy Thompson, who has been organizing a Senate run, will also feel more relaxed about running now that Feingold says he is out. (In polling Feingold was the consistent leader in match-ups, even with widely-known and personally-popular Thompson, who the former senator led 48-47 in the most recent Public Policy Survey.)
Among those talked about as potential gubernatorial candidates are Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, outgoing Senator Kohl, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, state Senator Jon Erpenbach and several other legislators who rose to prominence during the intense debate over Walker’s move to strip public employees of most collective bargaining rights.
Feingold thought seriously about both contests, especially during a recent sojourn on northern Wisconsin’s Madeline Island, where he withdrew from public pressure to think and write.
The former senator, who is deep into the writing of a book on foreign policy, has also accepted a full-time teaching schedule this fall at Milwaukee’s Marquette School of Law, where he taught courses that focused on constitutional concerns in the spring. The book, While America Sleeps, with its conscious title reference to the Winston Churchill’s classic 1938 essay, While England Slept (and to a young John Kennedy’s Why England Slept), is a serious consideration of foreign policy missteps over the past decade. Its publication will see Feingold, a longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a frequent critic of US military policies, re-enter the international-policy debate.