Rasmussen Reports came out with a new poll today that has former governor Tommy Thompson beating Senator Russ Feingold in a hypothetical matchup, 47%-43%. Indeed, that poll, despite involving somebody who has been known to tease us instead of either of the announced challengers, it got a fair amount of national attention, from The Campaign Spot to Hot Air, from Instapundit to Memeorandum, from Politico’s Scorecard to Politics Daily. Of course, that could be because Politico’s Jonathan Martin got an instant post-Brown-win “I’m not saying no” reaction from Thompson (H/T – Kevin Binversie).
This is not the first poll this political season that gave Thompson an advantage over Feingold in the hypothetical matchup. A poll done by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and the UW-Madison Political Science Department had Thompson up 43%-39% in the hypothetical matchup back at the end of September (see tables 33 and 34).
At the time of the first Politico story, Kevin noted the lengthy “Hamlet-Brett Favre” act that Thompson has pulled since essentially the moment he left Madison for DC and the Bush administration. Indeed, Jim Geraghty noted that most of those who have not made a campaign of this magnitude official by this point have decided not to run. Bolstering that line of thinking is the reported 4th-quarter fundraising numbers by both Feingold and the more-conventional Republican challenger, Terrence Wall (both courtesy WisPolitics) – Feingold raised $947,000 to boost his warchest to $3.65 million, while Wall took in $500,000 in the first 7 weeks of his campaign. Despite Thompson’s wide name recognition and the fact that nomination papers aren’t circulated in Wisconsin until June, it’s going to take a lot of money to overcome the messaging money can buy, and there’s not a lot of time to get that money.
However, the timing and release of this poll strongly suggests that Thompson is preparing to jump in the race and overwhelm both the still-unknown Wall and the not-fundraising-and-yet-unknown Dave Westlake. Things are too far along for a major pollster to focus on a hypothetical without a very strong indication that the hypothetical will happen.
The key change in the fortunes of Feingold is that he has lost the independents. In September, he had a 39%-38% lead among “independents”; now, he’s losing them to Thompson 53%-36%. That overwhelms his recapturing of self-described Democrats.
Worse, Feingold’s unfavorables have skyrocketed. In September, his Approval Index (strong approval less strong disapproval) was +9 (23% strong approval, 14% strong disapproval, with the overall at 54% approval-30% disapproval). Now, it’s at -4 (26% strong approval, 30% strong disapproval, with the overall at 47% approval-48% disapproval).