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Struggling in Wisconsin, 'maverick' Russ Feingold cozies up to Obama

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To Barry Burden, who teaches political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Feingold’s arrival at the Obama rally was a “shocker.” It changed public perception that Feingold was shunning the president’s overtures for help.

Why the turn-around? Feingold needs help. Most polls show that in the final weeks of the campaign, he trails Ron Johnson, an Oshkosh businessman with tea party leanings. Pollster.com, which aggregates national and local polls, shows Mr. Johnson at 52.3 percent and Feingold at 45.1.

Last week Feingold joined Michelle Obama at a luncheon fundraiser in Milwaukee, where he made it clear he was proud of his vote on health-care reform. He said he was “honored to have voted for President Obama’s courageous action to bring health care after 70 years of waiting.”

Maverick no more?

The direct overtures are unusual for Feingold, who for three terms has cultivated a maverick image. Wisconsin voters have a history of supporting public officials who do not necessarily follow the Washington agenda line by line. Feingold provided the sole vote against the USA Patriot Act in 2001, and he was one of the few senators who voted against invading Iraq. Since Obama has taken office, Feingold's views on gun control have sided more with Republicans, and he was one of the few Democrats who voted against confirming Timothy Geithner as US Treasury secretary.

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