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Struggling in Wisconsin, 'maverick' Russ Feingold cozies up to Obama

Dubbed by some as the 'least loyal' of all Senate Democrats and trailing in the polls, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold is in a tricky spot as he tries to appeal to the Democratic base.

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Mr. Burden calls Feingold “the least loyal of the Democrats in the Senate,” which in this current race puts him in a tricky spot. “His maverick reputation helps him with some voters and hurts him with others,” Burden says. “You can say, ‘I’m not working in lock-step with the Democratic Party,’ but on the other hand, that’s not a good message when you’re trying to crank out the Democratic base to vote. He’s stuck in a funny place.”

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The Republican opposition is taking aim at Feingold’s growing interest in sharing the stage with A-list Democrats in the last throes of the race.

Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last week that Feingold’s appearance alongside Michelle Obama "probably isn't the best tactic for a candidate trying to prove that he hasn't 'gone Washington' over the last 18 years.”

Burden says recent visits by the Obamas, as well as a visit in Milwaukee last week by Vice President Joe Biden, are as much efforts to stimulate early voting as they are to endorse local candidates from their party. Wisconsin Democrats “are not enthusiastic at the moment,” which makes party leaders worried many of them will stay home and not vote, he says.

Early voting increases

The battle for early voter turnout is a national trend. According to research published by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press this week, 27 percent of voters nationwide have already voted early or plan to do so before Election Day. That is an increase from the 18 percent who gave a similar response during the 2006 midterm election season.

Those favoring early voting are not affiliated more or less with a particular party, as respondents are split 28 percent to 29 percent between Democrats and Republicans, respectively. That makes state parties nervous when their candidate is behind in the polls.

"Like many people, [Democratic voters in Wisconsin] are concerned the economy hasn’t turned around faster. These efforts to bring the president in and encourage early voting is a way to remind people that there is a lot at stake,” Burden says.