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Russ Feingold won't vote for John McCain, but he willingly sings his praises

August 13, 2008 |  3:58 pm

As part of burnishing the "maverick" image he holds near and dear, John McCain frequently boasts of his credentials as a bipartisan problem-solver.Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is a strong supporter of Barack Obama but he has fond things to say about John McCain, his old legislative ally

In the most recent example, as chronicled by The Times' Seema Mehta, he touted to a crowd in Pennsylvania his "record of reaching across the [Senate] aisle and working with [his] friends, whether it be Joe Lieberman [the erstwhile Democrat from Connecticut, now one of McCain's most vocal backers] or Ted Kennedy [the liberal lion from Massachusetts]."

What struck us was the omission -- not only in this instance, but in others -- of the Democrat with whom McCain forever will be associated: Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

In an epic legislative struggle, the two overcame years of roadblocks to finally pass, in the early part of this decade, the sweeping reform of campaign finance law that is commonly referred to as the McCain-Feingold bill.

But especially on the right, their reform measure remains a bone of contention. So as McCain seeks to consolidate the support of conservatives leery of him, it's not surprising that Feingold's name is not one he would drop.

Feingold, for his part, is a strong Barack Obama supporter -- but one with a good feeling about his old legislative ally.

In a recent interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that gained attention, he did not hesitate to veer from his party's line on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, scoffing at the contention that a McCain White House would simply represent a third term of the Bush administration.

Said Feingold: "The notion that somehow [McCain] is going to get in there and be some kind of ideological Newt Gingrich right-winger is a joke. There's no way that he would do that."

Feingold differs with McCain on an array of issues, most obviously the Iraq war. But he praised McCain as someone who "calls 'em as he sees 'em, and as president would call 'em as he sees 'em, and would make people mad all over the place because it wouldn't fit anybody's playbook. He would be very original."

As the Journal Sentinel's Craig Gilbert aptly put it in his story, "Those are not exactly Democratic talking points."

-- Don Frederick

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