Heavyweights Ryan, Feingold weigh Senate race in Wisconsin

The two candidates widely considered to be the top prospects to run for Wisconsin's newly open Senate seat — GOP Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Pelosi administration It's not populism that's killing America's democracy MORE and former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold — both left open the possibility of a 2012 bid on Friday.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement that he was "surprised" by Sen. Herb Kohl's (D) announcement, and that he will "take some time over the next few days to discuss the news with my family and supporters before making any decision."

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Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, has become a focal point for national Democrats, who have slammed his proposed budget as the "end of Medicare." Democrats are already framing the 2012 elections as a referendum on Ryan's budget plan, a debate that would be further fueled by Ryan's entry into the Senate race.    

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) expressed confidence Friday that the party would hold the seat, calling Wisconsin "one place in the country where Republicans have overplayed their hand."

Alluding to Gov. Scott Walker's (R) battle with organized labor in the state, DSCC Chairwoman Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus Stimulus plan hinges on McConnell, Schumer repairing toxic relationship MORE (Wash.) said, "Democrats are confident that we'll hold on to this seat, particularly because of the extreme Republican agenda that is on display in the state." 

Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) would likely be the first-choice candidate, according to one national Democrat. But Feingold isn't likely to make a quick decision on the race. 

In a statement issued through his Progressives United PAC, Feingold made no mention of the 2012 race, praising Kohl as someone who "has served the state with honor." 

But Feingold's former chief of staff told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday that the former senator, who lost to Republican Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonRemembering Tom Coburn's quiet persistence Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner GOP seeks up to 0 billion to maximize financial help to airlines, other impacted industries MORE last November, will come to a decision in "the coming months."

"Running for office in 2012 is not something Russ is eager to do or has been planning to do," Mary Irvine told the paper in a statement. "He is very committed to his current projects — teaching law at Marquette University Law School, Progressives United and writing a book about American foreign policy. He will come to a decision, in the coming month, after consulting with family and friends and people in Wisconsin."   

The group Democracy for America immediately launched a campaign to draft Feingold, saying in an email petition that “now more than ever we need a progressive champion like Russ fighting for middle-class Americans in the Senate.”

Daniel Strauss contributed. 

This post was updated at 3:18 p.m.