[O]ver the course of his visit, he laid out what sounded like the elements of an embryonic Feingold strategy - for himself or his party - for how to win back lapsed and teetering Democrats.
Put another way, he provided some clues about how a "Russ Feingold for President" campaign, were it ever to happen, might look.
If the theme of the trip was making inroads in red states dominated by culturally conservative voters, Feingold's prescriptions involved both style and substance.
Along with jobs and health care, he repeatedly brought up the deficit and trade, suggesting both issues could be used to win back conservative and blue collar voters upset by the nation's growing debt or the loss of jobs overseas. He argued that the environment could be a winning issue in red states, especially if Democrats linked it to hunting and fishing and conservation, something John Kerry sought with mixed success to do in 2004.
"John Kerry was a laughingstock in his hunting attire," complained one Democratic activist at a meeting with Feingold in Birmingham.
"I don't think the answer was having hunting attire," said Feingold, who doesn't hunt.
Feingold, unlike some other Democrats, is not writing off the South, and he's done some serious thinking about how Democratic candidates need to change to reach Southern voters:
Feingold, a hunting-state senator who voted against renewal of the assault weapons ban, singled out guns as a hot-button cultural issue that Democrats could neutralize by convincing pro-gun voters that Democrats respect their right to bear arms.
"If we can change the perception about guns, I believe that would be the most useful thing we can do, not only in the state of Alabama, but also in Wisconsin," he said in an interview Tuesday.
Feingold suggested that abortion and gay rights represented more fundamental differences, less easily bridged. But he argued that some voters can live with such differences "if we present ourselves as pragmatic, honest and willing to listen."
In fact, much of what Feingold had to say in Alabama about expanding the party's appeal was stylistic, about speaking "straight" and "connecting" with ordinary people, the sort of things Kerry was criticized for failing to do.
"Maybe it's more about character and about how we present ourselves as people," Feingold said at the listening session he held for some 20 Alabamians in a heavily Republican suburban county south of Birmingham.
Throughout the trip, he criticized the tone of Bush's harshest critics, saying that "some of the language I heard Democrats use was very bad. . . . Don't say, 'I hate the president.' Don't say things like, 'We need regime change in the United States.'"
Well put! I don't know how this plays in the South, but, according to the article, wherever he went, Feingold handed out cheese, bratwurst and kringle. Don't know what kringle is? Won't you be excited when Russ comes to your town and you can find out?
UPDATE: Gordon is kringle-blogging, and he's kringle-blogged before! Can't wait for Russ to come to your town and bring you kringle? Go here!