Feingold for President

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 5, 2005

President Feingold?

Some may call it a long shot, but who knows? It appears Russ Feingold may be a Presidential candidate in 2008.

FYI, Feingold is a Democratic senator from Wisconsin who passed through Alabama last week. Well, pass through may be incorrect.

He spent three days in our fair state, speaking with residents in Greenville, Montgomery, Birmingham – and Shelby County.

Feingold actually visited Greenville last November, just after winning a third term in the U.S. Senate. He irked residents in the Butler County town by describing it as possibly &uot;the reddest (most Republican) spot on the whole map,&uot; while talking about the number of &uot;check-cashing stores and abject trailer parks, and some of the hardest-used cars for sale on a very rundown lot.&uot;

We’ll talk more about his Greenville comments in a moment.

Anyway, Feingold hasn’t said &uot;yea&uot; or &uot;nay&uot; on whether he will run. However, he filed a document earlier this year establishing what is now the Progressive Patriot Fund – a leadership committee that is funding his trips across the nation – as he gauges the merits of a potential presidential run. At the end of February, the fund had about $46,000, according to media reports.

Feingold doesn’t have strong name recognition outside Wisconsin. He’s most famous for co-sponsoring the McCain-Feingold Act for campaign finance reform.

However, Feingold is somewhat of a maverick.

He was the only U.S. senator to oppose the Patriot Act in 2001, just days after 9-11. He also opposed NAFTA and GATT and was one of only 10 senators to vote against President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act.

He has also opposed senate payraises (He recently told an interviewer he has returned about $50,000 during the past 12-plus years).

Here are some reasons why he could be a viable candidate.

He’s relatively young (age 52), personable and seemingly popular among his voters (He won last year’s senate election by 12 percentage points, even though Wisconsin voters narrowly selected Kerry over Bush).

Feingold may be one of the more intellectual candidates, having earned a law degree from Harvard and being named an Oxford University Rhodes Scholar.

You also have to credit him for speaking his mind, even if you don’t agree with him.

Here’s one of his more famous comments from the salon.com article about Greenville: &uot;… I can only wonder how many more generations of central Alabamians will say yes when the increasingly powerful Republican party asks them to be concerned about homosexuality, but not about the security of their own health, about abortion, but not about the economic futures of their own children.

&uot;As my wife and I drove through Greenville that night, I thought how fundamentally unfair this all is in order to support an increasingly radical conservative movement.&uot;

If Feingold wishes to run for president, he’ll likely face an uphill challenge against other potential candidates such as Sen. Hillary Clinton or former vice presidential candidate John Edwards.

Feingold could pick up some moderate and conservative supportfor his work on campaign finance reform, and his reputation as a straight-shooter.

However, he may be too liberal for Americans. He’s anti-death penalty and pro-choice. Some Americans would likely shy away from electing a Jewish president, too.

It’s hard to say whether Feingold will gain popularity in the South and other locations, or even if his Alabama excursion will help him.

Feingold should be credited for making another trip to Greenville – at the request of the city’s mayor – but I’m not convinced he would carry Greenville if the presidential election were held today.

It’s too early to say if Feingold will run, much less win the Democratic nomination.

It is interesting to note the last two Democratic presidents – Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton – came from relative anonymity to win their party’s nomination, and ultimately the presidency.

Patrick Johnston is a staff writer at the Shelby County Reporter. He can be reached at mailto:patrick.johnston@shelbycountyreporter.com