What Kind of Race Would Russ Feingold Run in 2016?

by Nathan L. Gonzales December 19, 2014 · 9:27 AM EST

Former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., isn’t ruling out trying to get his former seat back this cycle. But it’s unclear how good of a campaign he will run.

Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore told Roll Call’s Alexis Levinson last week she expects Feingold to wage a rematch against GOP Sen. Ron Johnson in 2016 and to clear the primary along the way. But in the wake of his loss in 2010, it became clear Feingold’s campaign suffered from some internal campaign strife, which factored into his failure to re-create the maverick magic of his previous victories.

His long-time media consultant was extraordinarily candid in an in-depth, post-mortem story for Roll Call.

“The decision-making process was far different,” Feingold’s longtime media consultant, Steve Eichenbaum, told Roll Call in an interview after the 2010 election. Contrary to the past three races, the Milwaukee-based media consultant found himself taking orders rather than having creative input.

“They weren’t our ideas,” Eichenbaum explained about the ads that made the airwaves. “We were more of a production company.”

So who was the director?

“Russ Feingold runs Feingold’s campaigns,” according to one Democratic insider. “He micromanages his races in a maddening way.”

Until now, it hadn’t been much of a problem.

“Russ Feingold has always been a good judge. His instincts were infallible up to this point,” Eichenbaum said. “Russ just believed he couldn’t do what he did in the past and have it work.”

That sort-of on-the-record candor, particularly from a longtime ally, is rare.

“I don’t even consider it our stuff,” said Eichenbaum, who was disappointed and tired of answering questions about why the 2010 ads were so different than in the past. “Had we won with this stuff, I wouldn’t have taken credit for it.”

Looking ahead to 2016, it’s clear that Johnson will be one of the top, initial Democratic targets. But if Feingold runs, who will he hire for his consultants and who will be calling the shots?