MILWAUKEE—For a moment last Friday, Russ Feingold tried to answer his skeptics rather than rally his base. Tucked away in a 30-minute speech brimming with fiery denunciations of the Patriot Act and overprivileged CEOs were two sentences that suggested the former senator was intent on confronting his new campaign's biggest challenge.
"Democrats, we are the party of the future, but only if we listen, and only if we act," he told several thousand Wisconsin Democrats gathered for the party's annual state convention, located in a ballroom at a glitzy downtown casino. "We don't win seats by fighting yesterday's battles."
Few candidates know better than Feingold about the need to adapt and move on from an old fight. Few expected Feingold would lose when the 2010 election cycle began, but he was caught off guard and eventually ousted by a political newcomer who successfully convinced voters that Feingold was part of a liberal Congress too eager to expand the size of government. In the aftermath, members of Feingold's team publicly criticized the effort, calling it stale and out of step with the senator's previously successful runs.
Now, Feingold is running to reclaim his seat in a rematch with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, and his team is confident that a more favorable political environment and presidential-year turnout will push the race in his favor. But they're also vowing a fresh approach—both from the senator and the team around him—to assure Democrats that the mistakes of the last campaign won't be repeated.