By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Sen. Ron Johnson insisted for weeks that his re-election race, a rematch with Democrat Russ Feingold where the incumbent was branded the underdog, was far closer than anyone thought.
He was right.
Johnson beat Feingold for a second time in six years Tuesday, marking the first time since 1980 that a Republican has won election to the Senate in Wisconsin in a presidential year. It also helped ensure Republicans would retain majority control of the Senate.
Johnson outperformed Donald Trump, who also won the state but by about half as much as did Johnson. Johnson won by about five points while Trump bested Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin by less than three, based on unofficial results.
Trump’s securing of Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes put him over the 270 he needed to win the presidency. He was the first Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan in 1984 to carry Wisconsin.
Johnson, the Oshkosh manufacturer who rode a tea party wave to victory in 2010, beat Feingold by about five points, based on unofficial results. Polls leading up to the election had never shown Johnson with a lead anywhere close to that.
Feingold, who served three terms before losing in 2010, failed in his attempt to become the first senator in 82 years to defeat the same person who knocked him out of office.
Johnson cast his win as a victory for truth, while a dour Feingold warned his supporters to be restrained in the face of what he said may be historic challenges.
“I told the truth. I think the good folks of Wisconsin recognized that,” Johnson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview before he spoke to supporters in Oshkosh. “I’ve been working my tail off for the last six and a half years.”
Johnson said he won because people are concerned about the direction of the country.
“They are not happy with what’s happened in Washington, D.C.,” Johnson said. “They see a dysfunctional system.”
Johnson pitched himself as the outsider businessman, even though he has spent the past six years in the Senate. He played up his manufacturing background, while branding Feingold as a Washington insider who had achieved little over his previous 18 years in the Senate.
Feingold argued that the millionaire Johnson would never side with the working class on issues such as raising the minimum wage, reducing college loan debt and opposing free trade deals that ship jobs overseas. Johnson said it was his private-sector experience that set him apart from Feingold. Johnson, chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee, also tried to make national security a central theme, saying Feingold was ill-equipped to fight terrorism overseas or at home.
Johnson branded Feingold a phony in the waning days of the race, as millions of dollars in outside money poured in on both sides in the tightening contest.
Steffi Musa, a 57-year-old nurse from Madison, said she voted for Johnson even though she had previously supported Feingold.
“I used to vote for Russ Feingold years and years ago and I think he was pretty good,” she said. “But I thought it was time for a change in 2010. I thought about giving Feingold another chance, but when it came down to it I stuck with Johnson.”