Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, says that Wisconsin senator Herb Kohl would be in "a pretty solid position if he did decide to seek reelection" in 2012. But is it really that solid? He's under 50% in hypothetical match-ups with Paul Ryan and Tommy Thompson:
Kohl leads hypothetical 2012 contests against Congressman Paul Ryan, former Governor Tommy Thompson, and Attorney General JB Van Hollen by margins ranging from 6 to 13 points. Ryan does the best, trailing only 48-42. Thompson faces a 49-40 deficit, perhaps another reminder that Republicans were better off this year with a fresh face in Ron Johnson than they would have been with trotting Thompson back out there. Van Hollen trails 51-38.
As an NRSC aide points out, PPP said Feingold "looks solid" at the same point in 2009, and we all know how that turned out. In fact, PPP notes that its poll shows the recently defeated Feingold--who may run again if Kohl retires--polling just as strong as Kohl in 2012:
Feingold polls similarly to Kohl in head to head match ups against the Republicans, leading Ryan by 7 points, Thompson by 9 points, and Van Hollen by 11 points.
PPP finds Feingold in good standing because it predicts the electorate in 2012 will be very different from the electorate in 2010. There's something to that: In 2010, young voters (ages 18 to 29) made up 15% of the electorate, and in 2008 they made up 22% of the electorate. Then again, 2008 was an unusually good year for Democrats in Wisconsin, with Obama winning by 13 points. The Democratic presidential candidate only won the state by razor-thin margins in the two previous cycles: 1 point in 2004 and less than 1 point in 2000. The notion that the 2012 electorate in Wisconsin will be more like 2008 than 2004 is by no means a sure thing.
Furthermore, Paul Ryan isn't that well-known statewide, and if he chose to run, you'd probably see him surge in the polls and win comfortably. If Marco Rubio taught us anything in 2010, it's that an impressive candidate with a compelling message should ignore early polls showing him far behind a popular, established elected official. And Ryan is just such a candiate. Of course, he may be needed for a bigger job than U.S. senatorin 2012.