MADISON (WKOW) -- In a neck-and-neck race for the U.S. Senate, the Democratic candidate is a well-known incumbent. But the leading Republican is a political newcomer whose name was unheard of three months ago.
Watch a campaign ad for Ron Johnson and you'll learn that he supports discipline, hard work and common sense. But you won't hear his gloomy outlook on the Middle East, his willingness to trade away the home mortgage deduction, or his views on global warming.
"I have never lobbied for some special treatment or a government payment," Johnson said, speaking from his Oshkosh plastics factory conference room. "When you subsidize things, it doesn't work through the free market system very well."
We asked if that applied to home mortgage interest deductions, and whether that popular program should be eliminated. Johnson said his goal is to lower taxes and simplify the tax code, and, as part of that, he wouldn't rule out doing away with the interest deduction."
"If that means horse trading with reductions of certain deductions I'm willing to take a look at all of the options," Johnson said.
Johnson says the government has plenty of revenue, it's spending that's out of control. We asked him about the hundreds of millions spent on wars in the Middle East.
"Who wants to spend any money on wars?" He said. "Nobody. The fact of the matter is though we're under threat of Islamic terrorism. We were attacked. And we have to respond to that."
On the day of our interview, 60 Iraq army recruits were killed in a bomb explosion, just days before the last U.S. combat unit left the country.
"The Middle East is the Middle East," Johnson said. "The war between different factions in the Middle East has been going on for centuries. I don't think a 10-year involvement by the U.S. is going to solve that problem. I certainly hope it does."
But he refused to call the war a mistake.
"They thought that he had nuclear weapons capabilities and he was a real threat," Johnson said. "So I'm not gonna go and second guess that."
As for the war in Afghanistan, Johnson said President Obama erred refusing to commit the U.S. for the long haul.
"When President Obama didn't give that commitment I think that made the possibility of having success in Afghanistan very very difficult," he said.
And on the subject of climate change, Johnson reiterated his belief that the rise in Earth's temperature is caused by sunspots, not carbon dioxide emissions, and that it's all part of an ongoing natural cycle.
"There's a reason Greenland was called Greenland," he said. "It was actually green at one point in time. And it's been, since, it's a whole lot whiter now."
Johnson faces fellow Republicans Dave Westlake and Stephen Finn in the primary. On the Democratic side, Russ Feingold is running for re-election.