Johnson, Feingold hold final debate

Mike Gousha, Ron Johnson, Russ Feingold
(Photo: WISN)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Sen. Ron Johnson and former Sen. Russ Feingold had their second, final and most contentious debate with just three weeks left in one of the nation’s most closely watched Senate races.

The debate hosted by Marquette University in Milwaukee was moderated by Mike Gousha. It came just four days after their first debate.

The presidential candidates’ names came up frequently in the second debate’s early moments. Johnson argued Feingold shouldn’t support Hillary Clinton because she’s untrustworthy. Feingold argued Johnson is trying to have it both ways, endorsing Donald Trump but refusing to appear with him.

Gousha’s first question to them was, what’s at stake in this Senate election? Johnson argued it’s government and personal values. Feingold argued it’s the economy and working families.

“What we need is to return to our founding principles of a limited government, of a government that is primarily designed to protect our individual liberty and freedom,” Johnson said.

Feingold said families “are wondering when are they going to get a minimum wage increase? When are they going to get paid family leave? When is the cost of pharmaceutical medicine going to go down? When are we going to do something about the student loan program?”

The rematch between Johnson, the Republican who quit the business world in 2010 to unseat the Democrat Feingold, is seen as one of the chamber’s likeliest seats for a possible flip.

The 90-minute debate is taking place on the same day a new statewide poll from the St. Norbert College Strategic Research Institute showed Feingold leading the race 52 percent to Johnson’s 40 percent, with a margin of plus or minus almost 3.8 points. A Marquette law school poll a week ago had the race even, while a poll from Loras College in Iowa conducted two weeks ago gave Johnson a 5-point lead.


Statements from the Feingold and Johnson campaigns

Ron Johnson campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger:

Ron showed again why he has the momentum entering the final weeks of the campaign – his manufacturer’s approach to problem solving is a stark contrast to Senator Feingold’s 34 years as a career politician saying one thing and doing another. Ron won tonight’s debate and will win again in November because he’s a hard worker who Wisconsinites trust to clean up the mess in Washington.”

Russ for Wisconsin Communications Director Michael Tyler:

Tonight, Russ won because he presented a bipartisan vision for an economy that puts Wisconsin’s working families first, while Senator Johnson offered more of the same angry partisanship that has left Washington gridlocked. Russ shared what he’s learned listening to families in all 72 counties who are desperate for change and who are tired of Senator Johnson lecturing them about the importance of big corporations and special interests.

“Senator Johnson came into the night needing to impress independent voters, show he had real ideas, and explain his support for Trump – and he failed on all three. Instead, he spent most of his time desperately slinging mud to distract from his opposition to raising the minimum wage and making college affordable. He chose  to point fingers instead of offer solutions and to pass the buck rather than take responsibility for his record of failure in Washington.”


Debate timeline

10 p.m.

The final debate between Sen. Ron Johnson and Democrat Russ Feingold has been a spirited one.

Johnson and Feingold sat next to one another for 90 minutes Tuesday, fielding questions on everything from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to the best way to fight opioid abuse in Wisconsin.

Feingold accuses Johnson of not doing enough as senator to tackle issues such as fighting terrorism, immigration reform and campaign finance laws.

Johnson says as a businessman he is more in touch with what Wisconsin residents want, while Feingold is a career politician who thinks problems can be solved with more government programs.

The debate came three weeks before Election Day.


9:55 p.m.

Sen. Ron Johnson and Russ Feingold are disagreeing over immigration reform and border security.

Johnson says the border must be secured before any comprehensive immigration reform to deal with the roughly 11 million people here illegally now. While presidential nominee Donald Trump has campaigned on building a wall, Johnson says “You need better fencing, you don’t need a 1,700-mile wall.”

But Feingold says there needs to be comprehensive immigration reform and it’s bad for Wisconsin’s dairy industry and other businesses without finding a path to citizenship for the people here illegally.

Feingold says when Johnson was elected in 2010 “he came in with the tea party and they just shut it down.”

Johnson says once the border is secure, immigrants here who aren’t in trouble with the law will be treated with “real humanity.”


9:45 p.m.

Democrat Russ Feingold says Republican Sen. Ron Johnson hasn’t done his job in the Senate.

Johnson and Feingold are debating Tuesday for the second and final time before the election in three weeks.

They have disagreed on a bevy of issues from the need to raise the minimum wage to how to fight terrorism.

Feingold says Johnson doesn’t have specific ideas on numerous issues and hasn’t acted to fight terrorism or deal with the refugee crisis in Syria.

Johnson says Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid blocks Republican proposals. He says Democrats are “obstructionists.”

But Feingold says, “Harry Reid can’t stop you from introducing a bill.”


9:30 p.m.

Democrat Russ Feingold says Sen. Ron Johnson’s blocking a confirmation vote to put Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court disqualifies him from office.

Feingold made the charge during Tuesday’s second and final debate in their rematch for the Senate.

Johnson has joined with Republicans in blocking Garland, who was nominated by President Barack Obama. Johnson says he wants to wait until after the election to consider the nomination so voters can elect a new Senate and president.

Feingold says that is wrong and the Senate should act now to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Feingold says Scalia would be “horrified” to see the Senate not holding hearings on a replacement.

Johnson says he would only confirm judges, not “liberal activists.”


9:05 p.m.

Democratic Senate candidate Russ Feingold says Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is “benefiting enormously” from a campaign finance system he calls “corrupt.”

Johnson says the signature campaign finance law Feingold authored with Arizona Sen. John McCain when he was in the Senate was a “spectacular failure” and “simply didn’t work at all.”

Johnson and Feingold are meeting in a second Senate debate Tuesday, three weeks before the election.

Feingold is defending taking the majority of his donations from donors outside of Wisconsin, even though he pledged in 1992 never to do that. Feingold says he’s justified because the campaign finance system is fundamentally different following the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.

Johnson says Feingold promised to stand by his pledge and didn’t.

Feingold says if Johnson truly cared about reforming the system, he would have fought for changes while in the Senate but he’s done nothing.


8:55 p.m.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson says both he and Donald Trump are “change agents.”

Johnson stood by his support for the Republican presidential nominee in his second Senate debate with Democrat Russ Feingold.

Johnson says he believes he and Trump are “on the right side of the issues” like fighting terrorism and the type of judges who would be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Johnson says he has parted with Trump on several issues. Johnson said in the “I don’t think the election is rigged,” contrary to comments Trump has made.

Feingold says Trump is irresponsible and would destabilize the world order if he’s elected president. Feingold says Hillary Clinton is “not perfect” but “she’s so much better than Donald Trump.”

Johnson says “I think the American people are looking for dramatic change. Our nominee is a change agent. I’m a change agent.”


8:45 p.m.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson says he is not beholden to any special interests, refuting charges from his Democratic challenger that he is in the pocket of big business.

Johnson and Feingold are meeting Tuesday for the second and final debate of their Senate race rematch.

Johnson says he is proud of the plastics manufacturing business he helped start in Oshkosh. Johnson says he helped install the equipment at his company Pacur and worked nights. Johnson says, “I am the working man.”

But Feingold says Johnson’s voting record in the Senate shows that he sides with corporations and big business interests. Feingold says the question for voters is, “Who is this guy going to vote with? Is he going to vote with me or someone else?”


8:30 p.m.

The second and final debate between Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger Russ Feingold is underway.

Feingold and Johnson are meeting in a rematch of the 2010 election. Johnson won that, ending Feingold’s 18-year run in the Senate.

The two candidates first debated in this race just four days ago. This second debate in Milwaukee is a more open format, with the candidates answering questions from veteran journalist Mike Gousha (GOO-shay).

Marquette University Law School polls have shown the race tightening, to being about even in the most recent survey last week. But a new poll by St. Norbert College released hours before the debate showed Feingold with a 12-point lead just three weeks before the election.


Copyright 2016 Associated Press. WBAY contributed to this report