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Ron Johnson began his final kick toward election day with a rally last night at a theater space in a large restaurant-bar in his hometown of Oshkosh. About 300 people were there, waving mini-American flags and green “Johnson for Senate” signs. The warm-up act included local talk-radio personalities and rock star Paul Ryan, who would not just have been drafted to run for president, but physically forced to, if the crowd had had its way. The mood was boisterous and cheerful, verging on giddy. We’re often told how angry the tea party is, and there’s no doubt people are upset, but ultimately their motivation is positive–they want to save their country and they are grateful for the privilege of working to do it. Ron Johnson is explicit about this. “The reason we’re here,” he says near the end of his speech, in one of his signature lines, “is that we think we’re losing America and we’re a group of people who refuse to let America go without a knock-down fight.” The crowd waves its flags and chants “USA!”
If you were to make a word cloud of the remarks the speakers make at this event, “exceptional” and “Greece” would loom especially large. As in (in Johnson’s words), this nation “is exceptional and we’re squandering it,” and we don’t want “to turn America into Greece.” In introducing the senate candidate, Paul Ryan says almost exactly the same thing. (“Paul, you used all my material,” Johnson jokes.) The other key word is “freedom.” Or as talk-show host Charlie Sykes says of Johnson, we’ve finally found a politician willing “to use the f-word in public.”
The other prominent sentiment in the room is gratitude for Ron Johnson, a first-time candidate almost no one had heard of a year ago who has proven a gifted campaigner and a perfect fit for this state. He came to notice with a couple of speeches to tea-party events and Sykes gave him an early boost by meeting with him and reading from his speeches on air–to enthusiastic audience reaction. Now, he’s on the verge of toppling Russ Feingold. Of Feingold and of Washington generally, the speakers insist they didn’t listen and they’re about to have no choice but to listen. Johnson, who emphasizes how humbling it is to have so much support, says when he’s travels the state and says, “I’m just a guy from Oshkosh, that means something to people.” All indications are that Washington will find out what it means soon enough.