In Wis., GOP's Johnson Beats 3-Term Sen. Feingold

In Tuesday's Senate election in Wisconsin, Republican businessman Ron Johnson unseated three-term Democrat Russ Feingold. Johnson, a political novice, seemed to come out of nowhere. Even he seemed surprised by his win.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Last night's Democratic losers included Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. He was a hero to progressives. But as NPR's David Schaper reports, he lost to a political novice.

DAVID SCHAPER: Ron Johnson appeared to come out of nowhere to steal a Senate seat that had been considered so safe for Democrat Feingold that no established Republican would challenge him. Johnson was helping run his family's plastics manufacturing company here in Oshkosh when he entered the race just six months ago. And using millions of his own money, he became a political giant-killer. And he seemed a little stunned by the reality of it all as he took the stage to claim his victory.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator-elect RON JOHNSON (Republican, Wisconsin): Thank you. Wow. Thank you.

SCHAPER: Throughout the campaign, Johnson attacked Feingold as an out-of-touch career politician and called himself a citizen candidate, touting his business acumen.

Senator-elect JOHNSON: You know my campaign has really been pretty simple, because I think the priority is pretty straightforward. It's not going to be easy. It's going to be hard. But we know what we need to do: We need to restore fiscal sanity to this nation.

SCHAPER: It's a message that seemed to resonate with many Wisconsin voters, including 44-year old Rick Ludwig of Oshkosh, who says Feingold has been in office long enough and government spending is out of control.

Mr. RICK LUDWIG: If we have to live within our means, why can't the government?

SCHAPER: Ludwig says Ron Johnson will bring a fresh approach to Washington.

Mr. LUDWIG: He's been in business. He has to face a bottom line. He has to keep budgets - stay within budgets, not keep going back to the owners to get more money to get projects done.

SCHAPER: Ludwig and other Wisconsin voters who backed the newcomer Ron Johnson say his quiet campaign to topple the once-mighty Russ Feingold signals a political shakeup both in Wisconsin and the nation's capital.

David Schaper, NPR News in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

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