Feingold faces tough re-election fight in WisconsinBy Bruce Morton/CNN
MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (October 21) -- The race for Wisconsin's Senate seat is heating up as polls show the race between incumbent Sen. Russell Feingold and his GOP challenger, Rep. Mark Neumann, is too close to call.
Their contest hinges on some divisive issues, like abortion, and money. Neumann is easily outspending Feingold, who has pledged to campaign within the limits his failed campaign finance reform legislation would have established.
On the trail, you can tell Neumann used to be a teacher. When he comes to town meetings in places like in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and says, "Vote for me," it sounds a little like, "Boys and girls, pay attention."
Speaking to two dozen voters sitting on folding chairs and using an overhead projector and charts, Neumann lectures the group on concepts like the economy and projected budget revenue.
The issues in Neumann's race to unseat Feingold? On TV and at every stop, Neumann hits the late-term abortion procedure politicians call "partial-birth abortion."
"If we allow this practice to continue -- ninth month, healthy baby, partially delivered -- folks, that says something about us as a nation," Neumann tells supporters at a banquet.
In Elkhorn, Neumann found support.
"I didn't think anybody would support partial-birth abortion, but I've talked to a couple of those political people on the Democratic side, and I'm just shocked," one person who attended the town meeting told Neumann.
But Feingold says, wait a minute.
"I'm opposed to late-term abortions except in cases of extreme physical danger to the woman," Feingold says in one of his TV ads.
Neumann would ban this one procedure except to save the mother's life; Feingold would ban all late-term abortions except when the mother's life or health were at risk. On abortion in general, Feingold supports abortion rights; Neumann would vote to ban all abortions except to save the mother's life.
"I'm pro-life. You would expect me to vote the pro-life position; I intend to do that," Neumann says.
"The partial-birth abortion issue does play very strongly here, and I think Neumann is on the popular side, best as anyone can guess," says Alan Borsuk of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Abortion is not the only issue in this race. Feingold is campaigning this week for guaranteed access to higher education for qualified young people, criticizing Neumann's record.
"He has voted to cut 280,000 Pell grants for needy students," Feingold tells a crowd of students at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. "So who do you want as your senator for the next six years?"
"You!" the students respond.
And Feingold is the campaign finance Feingold. He is abiding by all the spending limits in the McCain-Feingold bill which didn't pass. Neumann signed a spending limit agreement, but is heavily outspending his Democratic opponent.
Borsuk says the Republican challenger is outspending Feingold because Neumann has received "a very large inflow of Republican soft money ... appears to be well over $1 million."
"I wanted to make this a referendum on whether big money's going to control Wisconsin politics or whether the people are, and that is exactly what this is about," Feingold says.
Along with abortion, campaign finance and education, the candidates are wrangling over flag-burning. In Elkhorn, you see a lot of flags.
"Russ Feingold looked our veterans in the eye, and said it's OK to allow people to burn the American flag, the very symbol they fought to protect," another Neumann ad claims.
"Making sure that everybody that has fought for our country has adequate health care is my priority, and that's why the Vietnam Veterans of Wisconsin made me their legislator of the year last year," Feingold tells a pack of reporters.
The two men are alike in some ways. Both have sometimes gone against their party's leadership; both have real convictions.
Neumann may have a harder edge. In a recent debate, he suggested Feingold's campaign had planted a question about a campaign contribution. "Which part should I respond to -- that this question was accidentally set up here in this audience, and we should start there," Neumann said.
The questioner broke down.
"I would, out of all due respect, appreciate an apology for one, but that really offends me ..." the young woman who asked the question said, holding back tears. "I think we all know that it's hard for young people to get involved in the political process and to do something that would hinder my taking part is unfair."
Neumann didn't apologize.
As the November 3 election approaches, the leaves glow red and gold these soft fall days and Wisconsin shines in the fall sunlight. But Neumann and Feingold is are playing hardball.
"Is partial-birth abortion okay in the United States of America or isn't it? Neumann later tells that Elkhorn town meeting. "Protecting the American flag. I mean, these are the questions we're going to answer in this election. And that's what it should be about, and I have a lot of faith in the people."
Feingold has confidence, too, though. "I could be wrong. One of these days I'll be wrong," he said. "But my guess is that the people of this state will go with the person who represents the average citizen, not the person who is so intertwined with big Washington money that his being a senator will have nothing to do with Wisconsin."
Wednesday, October 21, 1998
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