Some political pundits are starting to whisper that the GOP could win control of the US Senate in November. If that happens, Ron Johnson, the plastics company executive in Wisconsin who is a newcomer to politics, could be a key figure. Johnson, president of Oshkosh, Wis.-based PET sheet extruder Pacur LLC, is running for the Republican nomination to face Democrat incumbent Russ Feingold this fall. In the past couple of days, the Wisconsin race has begun to get some national attention. Today, for example, The Wall Street Journal has a story -- "GOP Sees Path to Control of Senate" -- that says Wisconsin is a key state to watch to see if the Republicans have a chance to win a majority in the Senate. Here's what the WSJ has to say about Johnson, and the race:
In the weeks before the Republican convention in late May, Ron Johnson, who hasn't held political office, began appearing at tea party rallies. Tall and silver-haired, he proved a commanding speaker. Mr. Johnson provided copies of his speeches to local talk radio hosts, and conservative host Charlie Sykes read excerpts over the air. Mr. Johnson jumped into the race six days before the convention, pledging to spend millions on the campaign. "He literally came out of nowhere," said Brian Westrate, chairman of the Eau Claire County GOP. Mr. Johnson built his successful company, which makes a specialty plastic for packaging, from the ground up, and it exports to various countries including China. But he also has made comments Democrats have seized on, such as asking in a March speech, "How is Social Security different from a giant Ponzi scheme?" Democrats are using that quote to suggest Mr. Johnson is radically anti-government. Mr. Johnson rejects the idea. "The problem is that Social Security funds have been spent," he said in an interview. "They're gone. I'm just describing the problem." Wisconsin's Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, meanwhile, says he's not taking the threat lightly. His campaign held 132 events the week of July 4 alone, and he has hosted town hall meetings in each of Wisconsin's 72 counties. "I'm sure it will be close, but I'm used to that," Mr. Feingold said. "I will personally fight for every vote." On many on high-profile, issues, Mr. Feingold has been able to separate himself from the Washington establishment that is now so unpopular. Last week, he was the sole Democratic senator to oppose the new bank regulation law, saying it was too weak. They want to put me in the box of the classic Washington incumbent," Mr. Feingold said. "But people in Washington don't think I'm a classic Washington incumbent; they think I'm a pain in the neck. They're going after the wrong guy with those arguments." Still, the candidates are essentially tied in early polls. Vicki Burke, who chairs the La Crosse County Democrats, said that "in talking to people who work in [Mr. Feingold's] campaign, they think, given the atmosphere, that this could be the first time where he could possibly lose a race."The other race that the Plastics Blog has been watching, is in New Hampshire. Bill Binnie, the founder of Carlisle Plastics Inc. -- once a major film extruder, blow molder and injection molder -- is one of two leading candidates seeking the GOP nomination. Binnie is trying to win the GOP nomination to run for the seat currently held by Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican incumbent who is retiring. Binnie doesn't have the nomination locked up yet, and he doesn't seem to be getting the same level of national attention as Johnson. The WSJ, in this case, calls New Hampshire a Republican seat that could go to the Democrats.