Feingold, 57, is an elusive target. In recent polls he has been under 50 percent when matched with potential Republican challengers. A political lifer, three years out of law school Feingold began a 10-year stint as a state senator, then became a U.S. senator. His cultivated quirkiness complicates attempts to cast him as a traditional liberal. In 1999, he was the only Democrat to vote against the motion to dismiss the impeachment charges against President Clinton, and in 2008 he voted against the now hugely unpopular bailout legislation -- TARP (the Troubled Asset Relief Program).
This year's turbulence has already visited Wisconsin. Facing a strong Republican challenge, Rep. David Obey, 71, who came to Congress in 1969 and chairs the Appropriations Committee, has decided to retire, even though his district has not voted Republican in a presidential election since 1984.
Johnson, a pro-life Lutheran, will highlight Feingold's opposition to banning late-term abortions: "I would like to ask Russ, 'Have you ever witnessed a partial-birth abortion?'" But this year the "social issues," as normally understood, are less important than the social issue as Johnson understands it -- the transformation of American society in a way foreshadowed in fiction.
What Samuel Johnson said of Milton's "Paradise Lost" -- "None ever wished it longer than it is" -- some readers have said of "Atlas Shrugged." Not Johnson, who thinks it is "too short" at 1,088 pages. Noting that Massachusetts "is requiring insurance companies to write polices at a loss," he says, "We're living it," referring to the novel's dystopian world in which society's producers are weighed down by parasitic non-producers.
From 2000 through 2008, sales of "Atlas Shrugged," which was published in 1957, averaged a remarkable 166,000 a year. Since Barack Obama took office, more than 600,000 copies have been sold. The novel's famous opening words -- "Who is John Galt?" -- refer to a creative capitalist, Rand's symbol of society's self-sufficient people who, weary of carrying on their shoulders the burden of dependent people, shrug. Ron Johnson would rather run.