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Wisconsin

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Wisconsin Senate

Filing Deadline: July 14
Primary: Sept. 8

Nov. 4, 1998 — Democrat Russ Feingold defended his seat against Rep. Mark Neumann (R), winning a second term in what will no doubt be labeled a victory for changes in campaign finance. Feingold took 50 percent of the vote to Neumann's 49 percent, with 96 percent of precincts reporting.

The contest was a test case in rival campaign finance practices. Feingold, who with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) cosponsored one of 1997's most touted and spectacularly failed attempts at campaign finance reform, refused soft money contributions from Democratic groups. Democrats were both furious and worried that Feingold de-fanged his bid by pledging to limit his spending. Neumann, personally wealthy, received massive outside support.

Neumann generated controversy among Republicans for his opposition to funding a tax cut with the budget surplus. Conservative commentators including the Wall Street Journal editorial board and columnist Robert Novak heavily criticized Neumann's position.

Issues: Feingold was among the Democrats who distanced themselves from President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He called it a sad day for the country when Clinton acknowledged their relationship, and promised to do his duty as a public servant, not a partisan, if charges arise from the investigation.

True to their serious-minded reputations, Feingold and Neumann argued over their voting records and issues ranging from late-term abortions to the balanced budget amendment. Neumann slammed Feingold for refusing to support the late-term abortion ban, and in 1997 supported an effort by an antiabortion group to recall Feingold and his fellow Wisconsin lawmaker, Sen. Herb Kohl (D). Feingold accused Neumann of being inconsistent in supporting a balanced budget amendment because Neumann admitted the budget has been balanced without it.

The environment also played a central role, as the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters took aim at Neumann. The Sierra Club launched radio ads in June attacking his environmental record, and continued the negative blitz to September. The League of Conservation Voters named Neumann to its annual "dirty dozen" list of lawmakers targeted as enemies of environmental issues. Neumann cried foul on both actions, accusing the groups of being Feingold surrogates.

Fund-raising: Feingold raised more than $3.8 million, spent about $3.5 million and had $351,000 in cash on hand in mid-October. Neumann raised nearly $3.7 million, spent nearly $3.1 million and had about $591,000 in cash on hand.

Polls: Most surveys during the last month of the race showed Feingold with a razor-thin lead – usually within the margin of error. A poll conducted Oct. 9-20 by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee showed Feingold with 46 percent, Neumann with 44 percent and 9 percent undecided, with a 6 percent margin of error. A St. Norbert College poll conducted at the same time showed Feingold with 47 percent and Neumann with 40 percent, with a 4.8 percent margin of error. A poll conducted Oct. 21-24 by Market Shares Corp. for WTMJ-TV was the first to show Neumann in the lead with 46 percent to Feingold's 43 percent.

Advertising: Neumann went on television first, launching two biographical ads in early August. The state GOP followed with another statewide ad supporting Neumann. Feingold, meanwhile, held off on TV advertising until the final weeks of the campaign. The Sierra Club's $30,000 independent expenditure on anti-Neumann radio spots were among the stars of the ad wars.

— Lisa Todorovich, washingtonpost.com

Lisa Todorovich can be reached at lisa.todorovich@washingtonpost.com

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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