Rematch: Ron Johnson and Russ Feingold crossing swords again

The 2016 U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin is a rematch from 2010 -- only this time Democrat Russ Feingold (left) is the challenger and Republican Ron Johnson is the incumbent. (Journal Sentinel photos)
The 2016 U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin is a rematch from 2010 -- only this time Democrat Russ Feingold (left) is the challenger and Republican Ron Johnson is the incumbent. (Journal Sentinel photos)

The Washington Post, the Fiscal Times and Roll Call are among the media ranking Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson as one of the most vulnerable U.S. senators in the 2016 elections.

Which means Johnson's contest with Democrat Russ Feingold, a rematch from 2010, is likely to get plenty of national attention.

And that typically means heavy crossfire -- involving both the candidates and their supporters.

As we look ahead to the new year, here’s a look back at the 10 most recent items about Johnson and Feingold from our Truth-O-Meter and our Flip-O-Meter.

The Affordable Care Act, immigration, campaign financing, the minimum wage and student loans have been key topics to this point in the campaign.

Affordable Care Act

  • On conservative talk radio in November 2015, Johnson said "probably less than 4 percent" of Wisconsin residents "are enjoying the subsidies" from Obamacare.

Our rating: True.

He calculated the figure based on enrollment data and Census Bureau population statistics. Those numbers put the figure at 2.9 percent.

  • Six months earlier, Johnson claimed Feingold "was the deciding vote on Obamacare."

Our rating: Mostly False.

Obamacare backers needed 60 yes votes, including Feingold’s, on a crucial vote in the Senate that paved the way for final Senate passage of the health care reform bill. But to call it the deciding vote was misleading in that support from Feingold -- unlike some other senators who had to be persuaded to vote yes -- was never in doubt.

Campaign financing

  • Feingold changed his position on receiving campaign contributions from out-of-state donors, which put him to the test on our Flip-O-Meter in October 2015.

Our rating: Full Flop.

In his four previous Senate campaigns, Feingold abided by a commitment to raise the majority of his campaign cash from Wisconsin residents. But he decided this time around that he is no longer bound by the pledge.

  • A month after that ruling, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said Feingold "wanted to get money out of politics. Now he's profiting from that same dark money."

Our rating: Half True.

Feingold received $59,500 in salary from Progressives United Inc., a non-profit founded by Feingold that is not required to disclose its donors, but stopped receiving payments in 2013. While it was active, the group voluntarily listed its donors on its website. But those lists are no longer readily accessible, since the group’s website is no longer active.

Other topics

  • Feingold claimed Johnson had said specifically he hopes the first steps occur to privatize the Veterans Administration.  

Our rating: Half True.

Johnson has advocated for privatizing at least parts of the VA system, but not for moving to a completely private system.

  • Johnson said some 8.1 million of the estimated 11 million to 12 million people "in this country illegally are working."

Our rating: Mostly True.

The latest estimates from a nonpartisan research group showed that as of 2012, there were 8.1 million undocumented immigrants in the labor force -- some working, others looking for work.

  • The Wisconsin Democratic Party said Johnson has "been in office nearly four years now, but 40% of Wisconsinites don't know who (U.S. Sen.) Ron Johnson is."

Our rating: Mostly False.

In the most recent statewide poll that asked about Johnson, 40 percent of registered voters said they didn’t know him well enough to have an opinion about him and another 4 percent said they didn’t know if they had an opinion of him. But that falls short of evidence that 40 percent don't even know who he is.

  • Johnson, meanwhile, changed his stance on support for the Export-Import Bank, which helps U.S. companies sell their goods and services in foreign countries by providing financing for export deals.

Our rating: Full Flop.

Johnson first voted against it reauthorizing the bank, then for it.

  • Feingold said Johnson "opposes entirely a federal minimum wage," except perhaps for "guest workers."

Our rating: True.

When asked in July 2014 whether there should be a federal minimum wage, Johnson said there should not be one, other than perhaps one for guest workers. And while he may not be trying to repeal the wage, Johnson didn’t dispute the accuracy of Feingold’s claim.

  • Feingold also said Johnson "is opposed to all government-assisted student loans."

Our rating: Mostly True.

Johnson has said the government never should have gotten involved in student loans, shouldn’t be involved in it and should look to gradually get out of it. But one of his votes helped student borrowers in the short term, though that measure could lead to higher interest rates in future years, since the rates are tied to changes in the financial markets.