By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Real estate developer Terrence Wall, a newcomer to statewide politics who is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Russ Feingold, on Monday called the three-term U.S. senator a career politician who has lost touch with ordinary voters.
Wall was launching his campaign with a series of stops across the state on Tuesday and Wednesday. He said he will focus on creating jobs and turning around the economy, opposing the health care plan that Feingold supports in Congress and reducing taxes and cutting government spending.
“It’s time to throw the incumbents out and start over,” Wall said Monday in a telephone interview. “We need to hold Russ Feingold accountable. He’s had 18 years. He should be a leader in the Senate by now. He’s chosen not to lead.”
Feingold, a Democrat, has been in the Senate since 1992 following a 10-year stint in the state Legislature. His campaign spokesman, Trevor Miller, issued a statement encouraging those running against the senator to visit all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties to talk directly with voters as Feingold has done. Miller did not address Wall’s comments directly.
Wall hopes to ride the tide of anti-incumbent fervor that has many in Congress — particularly Democrats who hold the majority in both the Senate and House as well as control the White House — concerned about the upcoming midterm elections. Feingold’s seat is one of 37 in the Senate that’s up for election this year. Of those, 19 are held by Democrats and 18 by Republicans.
Feingold won his last race in 2004 against Republican Tim Michels by 11 points.
Wall ran for a spot on the Maple Bluff village board of trustees last year, but came in last with 17 percent of the vote. He ran for the same position and also came in last in 2001.
Wall is being opposed for the Republican nomination by Dave Westlake, a Watertown business owner who is new to politics. Westlake’s biggest claim to fame so far was his pledge to wear blaze orange every day in the campaign so he stands out in a crowd, a move he said increases his accountability with voters. He also has decided to forgo holding fundraisers and instead generate cash for his campaign by selling $25 T-shirts.
Westlake said his scaled-down campaign differentiates him from Wall and Feingold, both of whom plan on raising and spending millions. Westlake said it would be irresponsible in this economy to spend $10 million on a campaign.
Feingold has branded both Wall and Westlake as right-wing ideologues.
Wall, 45, started his real estate business 20 years ago and now employs about 35 people. He calls himself a fiscal conservative and said he will be talking about the need to create jobs, cut government spending and reduce taxes. He argued that Feingold doesn’t identify with the concerns of businesses and ordinary people.
“He doesn’t understand how to create jobs, he doesn’t understand how to turn the economy around,” Wall said. “He’s in favor of bigger government. I’m in favor of less government, lower taxes, more jobs and stronger national defense.”
Feingold has been working to counter such arguments, introducing a bill last year that would cut spending over 10 years to reduce the federal deficit by $500 billion. He also has been a critic of earmarks and a longtime advocate of allowing the president to use the line-item veto to eliminate individual spending items.
Feingold has made a name for himself as a champion of clean government, including the signature McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law passed in 2002.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party and liberal advocacy groups have called Wall a hypocrite, pointing to records that show he hasn’t paid personal income taxes in Wisconsin for four of the last five years and for incorporating at least 16 of his companies in Delaware, a practice often done to avoid taxes in other states.
Wall’s campaign countered that he and his companies have paid more than $30 million in taxes over the past five years.
Wall said he will be tapping his personal wealth to take on Feingold, one of the Senate’s best fundraisers.
Feingold reported having $3.1 million in the bank as of Oct. 1. Westlake reported only having $12,000. Wall, who held his first fundraiser in November, said last week that he had already raised more than $500,000, including $275,000 from a personal loan.
Feingold spent about $11 million in the 2004 election. Wall said it will take between $7.5 million and $10 million to run an effective campaign against Feingold. The primary is Sept. 14 and the election is Nov. 2.