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Former Democratic Wisconsin U.S. Senator Russ Feingold

The prospects for a GOP pick up of retiring Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl’s seat are looking better all of the time.
Democrat Russ Feingold has decided he will not be a candidate for political office next year, taking himself out of the running in 2012 for either U.S. senator or for governor in the event Democrats force a recall election against Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

In an email going out to supporters early Friday morning, Feingold called it a difficult decision but said he wanted to devote his time to teaching full time at Marquette Law School, finishing the book he is writing on the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attacks and leading the political committee he founded, Progressives United.

“While I may seek elective office again someday, I have decided not to run for public office during 2012,” Feingold said in the email.

Some Democrats were looking to Feingold as perhaps their leading candidate against Walker next year in the event of a successful recall drive. His announcement ends that scenario.

eingold’s lack of interest in running for Senate is not a big surprise.

Since he was defeated in 2010 in his bid for a fourth term, he has sent no obvious signals about a quick return to the legislative body where he served for 18 years.

“After twenty-eight continuous years as an elected official?.?.?.?I have found the past eight months to be an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective,” Feingold said in the email, saying he was “thoroughly enjoying the life of a private citizen.”

His decision leaves the Democratic Senate field wide open, though many Wisconsin Democrats will now regard U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, with her political base in vote-rich Dane County, as the early favorite for the party nomination.

The latest polling is here and Republican Tommy Thompson who is a former Wisconsin Governor has to be viewed as a front-runner in this race.

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Quite possible in the latest PPP Poll.

The Wisconsin Senate seat being vacated by Herb Kohl is looking like a genuine Republican pick up opportunity, with both Tommy Thompson and Mark Neumann leading all the potential Democratic candidates we tested besides Russ Feingold.

Feingold, who doesn’t seem terribly interested in running, would still be the strongest potential candidate. He has the best favorability rating of anyone we looked at both overall (49/43) and specifically with independents (52/37). He would have the slightest advantage over Thompson, 48-47, and a more healthy one over Neumann at 51-44. Feingold led them by 10 and 12 points respectively when PPP first looked at this race in May so there’s been a good amount of movement toward the Republicans since that time.

Good news for the GOP and if former Senator Feingold does NOT run, this will likely be a gain for the GOP next year.

The entire poll is here.

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According to the latest Club for Growth Poll.

The poll surveyed 500 respondents with a history of voting in GOP primary elections in the state and has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup against former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, who is also considering a run, Thompson received 40% of the vote and Neumann received 34%, with 27% undecided.

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+++++Update+++++

The path is cleared for Rep. Paul Ryan to run for President as the U.S. Senate race has picked up another candidate, Tommy Thompson.

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) has told friends he plans to run for the open U.S. Senate seat in Wisconsin, Politico reports.

“There’s no chance Thompson would run against Paul Ryan, so the former governor will await the Budget Chairman’s official announcement on the race before jumping in. Ryan has suggested in private conversations with GOP officials in recent days that he will take a pass on the race and focus on his House chairmanship.”

And, NBC News is reporting that Ryan will soon have a news conference soon announcing he will NOT be a candidate for U.S. Senate.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils the House Republican budget blueprint in the Capitol in Washington April 5, 2011

Yes, and the case for a duty call is obvious.

Jennifer Rubin makes the case as well.

In a very practical sense, the question for Ryan is: Why not give his party and the country six months (September 2011 to February 2012)? By then hell either have failed to catch fire or hell have a clear path to the presidential nomination. Six months. Twenty-four weeks. For a politician constantly at work in Congress, in town halls and in media appearances, that doesnt sound like that much. (In fact, I would venture that his schedule is more rigorous now than the average presidential contenders.)

You see, there is no good reason for Ryan to avoid a presidential run. Sometimes, if you dont see the opening and seize it, a better one never comes along. Bill Clinton understood this in 1992.

Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Paul Ryan should all consider running for the Presidency. Obama is wounded and the GOP needs popular and articulate candidates.

Duty Calls.

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