To most Democratic and Republican leaders in Wisconsin, it's no longer a question of if Russ Feingold runs for Senate—it's a question of when he'll formally enter the race.
The latest round of speculation over Feingold's future started Thursday, when the Huffington Post reported that the former three-term senator was scheduled to deliver his final speech next week as a member of the State Department, where he's served since 2013 as a special envoy to central Africa.
If Feingold's departure is imminent, that comes as no surprise in Wisconsin, where political insiders have believed for months that Feingold would return to take on GOP Sen. Ron Johnson next year in a repeat of their 2010 matchup. "The general assumption and hope is that Russ Feingold does run for Senate in 2016," said Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.
Feingold, Tate added, is the "strongest candidate to take on Ron Johnson in 2016."
Feingold's anticipated return effectively froze other competitors for the Democratic Senate nomination, all of whom are wary of taking on a liberal favorite in a primary. Even though the Hatch Act, a federal law that forbids executive branch employees from political activity, prevented Feingold from publicly lobbying for the job, most understood that his return was likely. As Wisconsin-based lobbyist and GOP strategist Brandon Scholz put it, Feingold's impending campaign was "the worst kept secret in Wisconsin."