Challenger critical of Feingold
After weeks of speculation about his U.S. Senate candidacy, the Republican made it official in a vacant manufacturing facility in Janesville, Feingold’s hometown.
“Eighteen years ago, I was going door to door, store to store and town to town in Wisconsin trying to grow my family’s business,” said Leinenkugel, whose family brewing business carries the same name. “Eighteen years ago, Russ Feingold was given a great opportunity to help Wisconsin.
“I did my part; Russ has not done his. Not even close.”
Leinenkugel criticized Feingold’s record, saying he voted against treating terrorists as terrorists, for a health care bill he said will bankrupt the nation and for government-run car companies.
“He voted against the Patriot Act—twice, and the list goes on,” Leinenkugel said of Feingold.
Until resigning earlier this month, Leinenkugel served for 18 months as Wisconsin’s Secretary of Commerce in Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration.
While he’s got statewide name recognition, Leinenkugel will often be asked to explain his service in the cabinet of the Democratic governor.
“Because of my business and management experience, I was asked to help Wisconsin,” he said. “I worked every day to save jobs in this state … I served the people of Wisconsin, not a particular party or governor.”
Leinenkugel said his experience as commerce secretary was frustrating yet eye-opening. He said he learned something every day.
As he spoke inside the former LSI building, about 10 Feingold supporters carried signs outside.
Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said Leinenkugel’s service in Doyle’s administration muddies a campaign he referred to as the “flip-flop tour.”
“This guy will say anything to get elected,” Tate said. “How are people supposed to know what he stands for?”
Tate said that as secretary, Leinenkugel supported the state’s efforts to expand high-speed rail, was a vocal advocate for Doyle’s failed Clean Energy Jobs Act and solidly backed the federal stimulus package.
As a candidate outside of the Doyle administration, Leinenkugel has reversed course, Tate said.
In answering questions Monday, Leinenkugel said high-speed rail is important in a regional sense but shouldn’t come at the expense of expensive infrastructure projects around the state. He said a federal policy on energy efficiency would be better than state-by-state legislation, and the stimulus program’s true measure is unemployment rates, which in Wisconsin are still too high.
John Kraus, a senior advisor for Feingold’s campaign, said Leinenkugel is talking out of both sides of his mouth.
“That’s a striking contrast with our candidate, who has consistently shown the people of Wisconsin the courage of his conviction on issue after issue,” Kraus said. “He seems like someone who is trying to figure out who he is and what he stands for.”
To advance to November’s general election, Leinenkugel—a self-described Ronald Reagan Republican—must win a primary.
The other Republican candidates are Madison real estate developer Terrence Wall and Watertown small-businessman Dave Westlake.
Oshkosh businessman Ron Johnson also is considering a run.