MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Spending by the conservative Koch brothers and other billionaires poured in Tuesday to boost Republican Sen. Ron Johnson's re-election bid in Wisconsin, while Democratic former Sen. Russ Feingold looked for a lift from Hillary Clinton's running mate.
Feingold urged early voting at a rally in Appleton with Sen. Tim Kaine, who was making his first stop in Wisconsin since August. Johnson, while benefiting from the burst of outside spending, planned to join Donald Trump at an evening rally in Eau Claire. That marks the first time Johnson has campaigned with the GOP presidential nominee.
Kaine told about 600 supporters, including many students from Lawrence University, that Feingold and fellow Sen. Tammy Baldwin would be two of the most progressive members of the Senate. Kaine said Feingold would look out for regular people, not lobbyists and lawyers.
"Do you want a senator backed up by the Koch brothers and all these groups ... or do you want a senator who's always stood with middle income working families?" Feingold said as he introduced Kaine at the rally.
Roughly $6 million has been spent by both sides on television ads in the Senate race since Monday, as Republicans see tightening in a contest that could be key to the battle for control of the Senate.
New ads came Tuesday from Johnson's campaign, Americans for Prosperity (backed by Charles and David Koch) and the Reform Wisconsin Fund. It has benefited from $5.4 million in donations from billionaire Diane Hendricks, co-founder of Beloit's ABC Supply. Democratic and Republican super PACs each launched $2 million ad campaigns Monday and Clinton aired her first spots in the state to help Feingold.
The former three-term senator said during a stop at a University of Wisconsin-Madison coffee shop that corporate powers are trying to save Johnson at the 11th hour because he does their bidding in the Senate. He said Johnson wants people to think the spending means the race is close.
Johnson, a businessman who helped build a plastics manufacturing company and ran his first race for office in 2010 against Feingold, is the real outsider, said Johnson's spokesman Brian Reisinger. In his speech at the Trump rally, Johnson will make the case for defeating both Clinton and Feingold, "two career politicians who are in it for themselves," Reisinger said.
Americans for Prosperity said it is spending nearly $1 million on the new ad attacking Feingold for supporting President Barack Obama's health care law. Republican Senate candidates across the country have seen an opening against Democrats who support the Affordable Health Care Act in light of news that premiums are going up an average of 25 percent in the 39 states served by the federally run online market. Rates in Wisconsin are expected to go up an average of 16 percent.
Feingold voted for the law when he was in the Senate and the new ad includes a clip of him talking about how proud he was to support it.
The other ad, coming from a different conservative super PAC, the Reform Wisconsin Fund, attacks Feingold for supporting the Iranian nuclear deal, calling him a "radical." Johnson opposes the deal that curtailed Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the end of various oil, trade and financial sanctions. Chris Martin, a spokesman for the group, said the latest ad buy was $628,000.
One of Johnson's new ads is tailored to the northern Wisconsin congressional district of Republican Rep. Sean Duffy and the other features a mother whose son died of a heroin overdose criticizing Feingold.
The Duffy ad shows the former lumberjack-turned-congressman chopping down a tree with a narrator saying both he and Johnson are "hardworking outsiders who tell it like it is." Johnson, wearing one of Duffy's signature plaid red shirts, stands next to Duffy in what appears to be a bar.
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