Russ Feingold
Russ Feingold official photo 2

Assumed office 
January 3, 1993
Serving with Herb Kohl
Preceded by Bob Kasten

Born March 2, 1953 (1953-03-02) (age 67)
Janesville, Wisconsin
Political party Democratic
Spouse 1) Sue Feingold (1977–1986) (divorced)

2) Mary Feingold (1991–2005) (divorced)

Children Jessica Feingold
Ellen Feingold
Residence Middleton, Wisconsin
Alma mater University of Wisconsin–Madison
Magdalen College (University of Oxford)
Harvard Law School
Occupation Attorney
Religion Jewish

Russell Dana "Russ" Feingold (born March 2, 1953) is an American politician from the U.S. state of Wisconsin. He has served as a Democratic member of the U.S. Senate and the junior Senator from Wisconsin since 1993. A recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, Feingold is known for his cosponsorship of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act ("McCain–Feingold Act"), a major piece of campaign finance reform legislation. He was also the only Senator to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act during its first vote. He had been mentioned as a possible candidate in the 2008 Presidential election, but following the November midterm elections of 2006 he chose not to run.[1]

Early life and educationEdit

Feingold was born in Janesville, Wisconsin to a Jewish family that had settled in the area in 1917. His grandparents were immigrants from Russia and Galicia.[2] His father, Leon Feingold (1912–1980) was an attorney, and his mother, Sylvia Feingold née Binstock (1918–2005) worked at a title company. Feingold was one of four children. He has publicly noted that his older brother, David, along with his father, were the major influences in his political development as a youth.[citation needed] He was also involved with B'nai B'rith Youth Organization and Aleph Zadik Aleph as a boy.

In 1972, Feingold volunteered for the presidential campaign of New York City mayor John Lindsay. Later he supported the presidential campaigns of Mo Udall and Ted Kennedy.[3]

After graduating from Joseph A. Craig High School, Feingold attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in 1975, a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. He went to Magdalen College at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship in 1977, where he earned another Bachelor of Arts degree. Upon returning to the U.S., he attended Harvard Law School, receiving his J.D. with honors in 1979.[4]


Feingold worked as an attorney at the private law firms of Foley & Lardner and La Follette & Sinykin from 1979 until 1985.[5]

In 1982, he was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate, where he served for ten years until his election to the United States Senate. In 1987, he joined the "Bowtie Brigade," a coalition of grassroots activists and local-level politicians who backed the presidential candidacy of bowtie-clad Senator Paul Simon of Illinois.

Family and personal lifeEdit

Feingold has been married twice. Russ and Sue Feingold were married from 1977 until 1986. They had two children, Jessica and Ellen. He then married Mary Speerschneider (also previously divorced) on January 20, 1991. Mary (née Erpenbach) had previously been married to Timm Speerschneider, a Madison attorney, with whom she had two children: Sam and Ted. Sen. Feingold's 2003 income tax return showed two home mortgages and ownership of an $8,000 1998 Buick.[6] On April 11, 2005, Russ and Mary Feingold jointly announced that they would be seeking a divorce.[7] When not in Washington, D.C., Feingold resides in Middleton, Wisconsin.



1992 raceEdit

Feingold's senatorial career began in 1992, with a victory over incumbent Republican Senator Bob Kasten. Feingold, who had little name recognition in the state and was campaigning in a primary against a pair of millionaire opponents, Congressman Jim Moody and attorney Joe Checota, adopted several proposals to gain the electorate's attention. The most memorable of these was a series of five promises written on Feingold's garage door in the form of a contract[8]. These were:

  1. I will rely on Wisconsin citizens for most of my contributions.
  2. I will live in Middleton, Wisconsin. My children will go to school here and I will spend most of my time here in Wisconsin.
  3. I will accept no pay raise during my six-year term in office.
  4. I will hold a "Listening Session" in each of Wisconsin's 72 counties each year of my six-year term in office.
  5. I will hire the majority of my Senate staff from individuals who are from Wisconsin or have Wisconsin backgrounds.

Also noted was Feingold's advertising campaign, which was widely compared to that used by progressive candidate Paul Wellstone in his victorious Senate campaign in Minnesota. Shot in the form of home movies, the ads attempted to portray Feingold, who always referred to himself as "the underdog running for U.S. senate," as a down-to-earth, Capra-esque figure, taking the audience on a guided tour of the candidate's home and introducing them to his children, all of whom were enrolled in public school.[9]

The ads also contained a significant amount of humor. One featured Feingold meeting with an Elvis Presley impersonator, who offered Feingold his endorsement.[10] (Bob Kasten responded to the Elvis endorsement with an advertisement featuring an Elvis impersonator attacking Feingold's record.[11]) Another showed Feingold standing next to a pair of half-sized cardboard cut-outs of his opponents, refusing to "stoop to their level" as the two were shown literally slinging mud at one another.[9] In still another, Feingold was shown conclusively demonstrating that there were no skeletons in any of his closets.[12]

During the primary campaign, Feingold unveiled an 82-point plan to eliminate the deficit by the end of his first term.[13] The plan, which called for, among other things, a raise in taxes and cuts in the defense budget, was derided as "extremist" by Republicans and "too liberal" by his Democratic opponents. Feingold also announced his support for strict campaign finance reform and a national health care system and voiced his opposition to term limits and new tax cuts.[14]

Feingold won by positioning himself as a quirky underdog who offered voters an alternative to the negative campaigning of opponents Jim Moody and Joe Checota.[15] On primary day, Feingold, whose support had shown in the single digits throughout much of the campaign, surged to victory with 70 percent of the vote.[14] Seven weeks later, while Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ross Perot split the Wisconsin presidential vote 41%-37%-21%, Feingold beat Kasten by a margin of 53 percent to 46 percent.[15]

1998 raceEdit

During his 1998 re-election campaign, Feingold once again eschewed big-money campaigning, despite the fact that the National Republican Senatorial Committee had targeted him for defeat.[16][17] Feingold placed a cap on his own fundraising, refusing to raise or spend more than $3.8 million (one dollar for every citizen of Wisconsin) during the campaign.[18] In addition, he placed the same limits on his fundraising that he would have faced under the McCain-Feingold bill. He refused to allow his party to raise any soft money to air ads favoring him, and he requested that several special interest groups, including the AFL-CIO and the League of Conservation Voters, refrain from airing pro-Feingold "issue ads."[19] His Republican opponent, Representative Mark Neumann, also limited himself to $3.8 million in spending, but allowed soft money to be used in his favor by a variety of pro-Republican groups.[18] Other Democrats and supporters were angry at Feingold for "putting his career at risk" with these self-imposed limits.[19] On election day, an extraordinarily strong showing in the Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and Madison allowed Feingold to win by around two percent.[20]

2004 raceEdit

In the 2004 Senate election, Feingold defeated the Republican candidate and construction magnate Tim Michels by 12 percent (56 percent-44 percent), earning a third term. During the campaign, Feingold refrained from imposing spending caps on himself as he had in the past, and raised and spent almost $11 million. Although Republicans attempted to use that fact to paint him as a hypocrite, Feingold's records showed that more than 90 percent of the money came from individuals, that the average contribution was only $60, and that, once again, a majority of it was raised from Wisconsin residents.[21] Feingold even won counties that supported a second term for Republican President George W. Bush.[22]

In late December 2004, Feingold was appointed to be one of four deputy whips for the Senate Democrats. Feingold pledged that the new role would not sway his maverick stance within the party or the chamber.[23]

Declines 2008 Presidential bidEdit

Russ Feingold 01A

Feingold on the campaign trail, stumping for Maria Cantwell (D-WA), October 2006.

In late January 2005, Feingold told the Tiger Bay Club of Volusia County, Florida that he intended to travel around the country before deciding whether or not to run in 2008.[24] In March 2005, his Senate campaign staff registered the domain, as well as the .org and .net versions; Feingold will not face reelection to the Senate until the 2010 election.[25] On June 1, 2005, Feingold launched a political action committee (PAC), the Progressive Patriots Fund; launching a PAC is seen as an important step in running for President. A "draft Feingold" movement was established, independent of the senator's campaign.[26]

On August 17, 2005, Feingold became the first U.S. senator of either party to suggest a firm date for American withdrawal from the Iraq war, saying that he favored a complete withdrawal by no later than December 31, 2006.[27]

On September 22, 2005, during the hearing on Judge John Roberts's nomination for Chief Justice of the United States, Feingold was one of three Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of sending Roberts's nomination to the floor for a full vote. He also announced that he would vote to confirm Roberts. (Feingold graduated in the same Harvard Law School class (1979) as Roberts, as did Spencer Abraham, former U.S. senator from Michigan and former United States Secretary of Energy.) Many members of the Democratic blogosphere predicted that this vote would have a negative impact on his presidential aspirations, but Feingold's supporters pointed out that this was not the first time Feingold voted in favor of Bush's judicial nominees. However, Feingold voted against Samuel Alito in committee and voted against cloture of debate regarding Alito's nomination on the Senate floor.[28]

Although Feingold usually received support in the single digits in opinion polls featuring various potential Democratic presidential candidates, he was highly popular among Democratic grassroots activists.

Following Democratic victories in the November 2006 mid-term elections, Feingold announced that he would not run for president in 2008. He said that running for president would detract from his focus on the Senate, and the likely prying into his recent divorce "would dismantle both my professional life (in the Senate) and my personal life."[1] In his parting comments, he warned his supporters against supporting anyone for the presidency who voted for the Iraq War, whether they later regretted it or not, saying his first choice for president in 2008 was someone who voted against the war, and his second choice is someone who wasn't in Congress but spoke out against the war at the time.[29]

On February 22 2008, he stated that he voted for Barack Obama as the Democratic Party nominee for the 2008 Presidential Election.[30]

Bills and policy positionsEdit

Feingold's primary legislative focus has been on campaign finance reform, fair trade policies, health care reform, conservation and environmental protection, a multilateral foreign policy, Social Security, civil liberties, and the elimination of capital punishment and wasteful spending.

Feingold was the only Democratic senator to vote against a motion to dismiss Congress's 1998–1999 impeachment case of President Bill Clinton.[31] In a statement, Feingold said House prosecutors must have "every reasonable opportunity" to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Clinton should be removed from office on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Feingold ultimately voted against conviction on all charges.

In 2001, Feingold voted for the confirmation of Attorney General John Ashcroft. This decision was not popular with his party, but Feingold explained that he voted based on respect for the right for a President to choose his Cabinet, not because of his own personal opinions on Ashcroft.[32]

Feingold has also been an opponent of NAFTA and other free trade agreements, a popular position among many pro-fair trade Democrats, but at odds with the pro-free trade Democratic wing including the Democratic Leadership Council.

In May 2006, Feingold voted to support the Salazar Amendment, which would have declared English the "common language" of the country, but dissented in the vote for the Inhofe Amendment, which would have made English the "national language" of the United States.[33][34]

On December 21, 2004, Feingold wrote an article for popular webzine,, regarding his golfing trip to Greenville, Alabama.[35] After noting how friendly the people were, and that Wisconsin had many similar places, he expressed his sorrow that such a poverty-stricken area was "the reddest spot on the whole map," despite Republican policies that Feingold considered incredibly destructive to the lives of the poor and middle class. Alabama Governor Bob Riley and Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon, both Republicans, were perturbed at Feingold's description of "check-cashing stores and abject trailer parks, and some of the hardest-used cars for sale on a very rundown lot." McLendon invited Feingold back for a more complete tour of the city, and Feingold agreed. He visited the city on March 28, 2005, making amends and increasing speculation about his presidential plans for 2008.[36]

In May 2006, Feingold voted in favor of bill S.2611[37], an immigration reform bill that, among other things, would almost double the number of H-1B visas.

As one of the strongest opponents of the capital punishment in the Senate, Feingold co-sponsored, along with Jon Corzine (who would later, as Governor of New Jersey, sign an abolition bill in his state), the National Death Penalty Moratorium Act in 2002[38]. In the 111th Congress, Feingold introduced the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2009.[39]

On January 26, 2009 Feingold, Tom Harkin and Robert Byrd were the sole Democrats to vote against confirmation of Timothy Geithner to be United States Secretary of the Treasury (Independent Bernie Sanders, who caucused with Democrats, also voted against Geithner's confirmation)[40].

Campaign finance reformEdit

Feingold is perhaps best known for his work alongside Senator John McCain on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, better-known as the McCain-Feingold Act, which took almost seven years to pass.

On July 14, 2005, Feingold introduced a bill in the Senate that would ban lobbyists from giving gifts to senators and impose a $50,000 fine for violating the ban, force lawmakers to sign statements saying that lobbyists did not pay their travel expenses, forbid lawmakers from traveling on corporate jets, bar congressmen, staffers, and executive branch officials from serving as lobbyists for two years after leaving office, and require that lobbying reports be disclosed on a quarterly, rather than semi-annual, basis.[41] The bill is the Senate version of a bill by Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA), who co-wrote the House version of McCain-Feingold, and Rahm Emanuel (D-IL). Neither version has yet come to a vote. The Feingold-McCain bill was initially waiting completion of McCain hearings on the issue, but the Jack Abramoff scandal has put it in the spotlight, along with several other more recent reform proposals.

Government spendingEdit

Feingold is also a well-known advocate for reductions in pork barrel spending and corporate welfare. Citizens Against Government Waste, the Concord Coalition, and Taxpayers for Common Sense, three nonpartisan organizations dedicated to those causes, have repeatedly commended him.[42]

Feingold, who was elected to Congress on a promise not to accept pay raises while in office, has so far returned over $50,000 in such raises to the U.S. Treasury.[43] In addition, he is notoriously frugal in his office's spending, and sends back the money that he does not use. In one six-month period in 1999, for example, his office received $1.787 million in appropriations and returned $145,000, a higher percentage than any other senator.[44]


Feingold was the only senator to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act when first voted on in 2001.[45] At the time, Feingold stated that provisions in the act infringed upon citizens' civil liberties.[46]

When the bill was up for renewal in late December 2005, Feingold led a bipartisan coalition of senators that included Lisa Murkowski, Ken Salazar, Larry Craig, Dick Durbin, and John Sununu to remove some of the act's more controversial provisions. He led a successful filibuster against renewal of the act. This ultimately led to a compromise on some of its provisions. This compromise bill passed the Senate on March 2, 2006, by a vote of 89-10. Feingold was among the ten senators who voted nay, stating that the bill still lacked necessary protections for some civil liberties.

In 2009, when the Act was again up for re-authorization, Feingold introduced the JUSTICE Act (S. 1686) "To place reasonable safeguards on the use of surveillance and other authorities under the USA PATRIOT Act".[47] Senator Patrick Leahy then introduced an alternative bill, about which Feingold later said "...while narrower than the JUSTICE Act that Senator Durbin and I have championed, [it] did contain several important and necessary protections for the privacy of innocent Americans". After what Feingold saw as the further watering down of civil liberty protections in the bill, it passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 8 on a vote of 11-8[48] with Feingold voting against it.[49]

Proposed constitutional amendmentEdit

Feingold announced in January 2009 that he was planning to introduce a constitutional amendment which would prohibit governors from making temporary Senate appointments instead holding special elections. Feingold referred to recent controversies, most notably the Rod Blagojevich corruption charges and also called appointments an anachronism, which doesn't reflect the will of voters.[50]

War in IraqEdit

Feingold was one of 28 US senators to vote against H.J. Resolution 114, which authorized President George W. Bush to use force against Iraq in 2002.[51]

On August 17, 2005, he became the first senator to call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and urge that a timetable for that withdrawal be set. He called other Democrats "timid" for refusing to take action sooner, and suggested December 31, 2006 as the date for total withdrawal of troops. On the subject of Bush's assertion that a deadline would be helpful to Iraqi insurgents, Feingold said, "I think he's wrong. I think not talking about endgames is playing into our enemies' hand."[27]

On April 27, 2006, Feingold announced that he would move to amend an appropriations bill granting $106.5 billion in emergency spending measure for Iraq and Hurricane Katrina relief to require that troops withdraw completely from Iraq.[52]

Call for a vote of censureEdit

On March 13, 2006, Feingold introduced a resolution in the Senate to censure President Bush.[53] This was a result of allegations of illegal wiretapping, as reported in The New York Times, that Bush did not follow the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), which mandates use of a surveillance court for approval of wiretaps on Americans. Feingold made a 25-minute speech on the Senate Floor, declaring that Congress must "hold the president accountable for his actions," The U.S. Senate has not yet voted on the resolution, as it first needs to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It has received support from Senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Boxer of California, although most Democratic senators have avoided expressing a firm opinion on it. Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Patrick Leahy of Vermont have expressed support for the bill, but Feingold was able to find only three co-sponsors.

Feingold again called for Bush's censure in July 2007 for his management of the Iraq war, accusing him of mounting an "assault" against the Constitution.[54]

Health care reformEdit

Feingold has long been an advocate for creating a system of universal health care in America. During his first run for the Senate, he endorsed the single-payer model, similar to that used by Canada. Once elected, he opposed the Clinton health care plan, saying that it did too much for the insurance industry and not enough for the uninsured. During the Bush administration, he has opposed the enactment of Medicare Part D and authored a bill to require the Senate leadership to submit health care reform bills.[55]

On July 24, 2006, at a press conference at the Martin Luther King Heritage Health Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Feingold announced that he had authored the State-Based Health Care Reform Act, a bill to create a pilot program for a system of universal health care under which each U.S. state would create a program to provide its citizenry with universal health insurance, and the federal government would provide the funding. The bill would create a non-partisan "Health Care Reform Task Force," which will provide five-year federal grants to two or three states. The program is expected to cost $32 billion over 10 years.[56]

Gun issuesEdit

Feingold has a mixed record on gun rights and gun control issues, voting in favor of certain gun control legislation, while also voting to expand certain gun rights. On February 24, 2004, he voted against S.1805, a bill that would have extended the Federal ban on semi-automatic firearms.[57] In 2002, he voted for allowing airline pilots to carry firearms in cockpits.[58] He has spoken in support of the interpretation that the Second Amendment pertains to an individual right to own firearms, and in opposition to proposals for handgun bans and mandatory firearms registration. Recently Feingold took this position when he sided with the conservative majority of the Senate and signed the Congressional amicus in District of Columbia v. Heller.[citation needed]

On the other hand, he has consistently voted in favor of bills to require background checks for firearms purchases at gun shows, and to require that handguns be sold with trigger locks.

In March 2004, he explained his position in a speech on the Senate floor:

I have never accepted the proposition that the gun debate is a black and white issue, a matter of 'you're with us, or you're against us.' Instead, I have followed what I believe is a moderate course, faithful to the Constitution and to the realities of modern society. I believe that the Second Amendment was not an afterthought, that it has meaning today and must be respected. I support the right to bear arms for lawful purposes — for hunting and sport and for self-protection. Millions of Americans own firearms legally and we should not take action that tells them that they are second-class citizens or that their constitutional rights are under attack. At the same time, there are actions we can and should take to protect public safety that do not infringe on constitutional rights.[59]

Same-sex marriage Edit

On April 4, 2006, Feingold told constituents at a listening session in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that he supported the legalization of same-sex marriage. Though Feingold had once voted against passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, this was the first time that he publicly announced his support for marriage rights for same-sex couples. Feingold's comments were in response to a question about whether he supported a ballot initiative that Wisconsinites voted on in November 2006 that incorporated a ban on same-sex marriage and all civil unions (same-sex or not) into the state constitution.[60] He joined then-Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Democrats Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Mark Dayton of Minnesota as one of only five senators to publicly announce their support for same-sex marriage.

Gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry and have access to the same rights, privileges and benefits that straight couples currently enjoy. . . [In a later interview:] The proposed ban on civil unions and marriage is a mean-spirited attempt to divide Wisconsin and I indicated that it should be defeated[61]

On May 18, 2006, Feingold again made news with his stance on marriage when he walked out of a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee shortly before a vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. After Feingold objected to both the amendment and decision of Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA at the time) to move the meeting to an area of the Capitol Building not open to the public, Specter told Feingold, "I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I. If you want to leave, good riddance." Feingold then replied, "I've enjoyed your lecture, too, Mr. Chairman. See ya." He then left the room and did not return. Later that day, the committee voted to send the amendment to the full Senate.[62]

On July 29, 2006, Feingold was the keynote speaker at the Human Rights Campaign's annual gala at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California.[63]

Committee assignmentsEdit

Electoral historyEdit

1992 U.S. Senate Race — Democratic Primary
Candidate Pct Candidate Pct Candidate Pct
Russell D. Feingold 69% Jim Moody 14% Joe Checota 14%
Wisconsin Senator (Class III) results: 1992–2004[64]
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1992 Russell D. Feingold 1,290,662 53% Robert W. Kasten, Jr. 1,129,599 46% Patrick W. Johnson Independent 16,513 1% William Bittner Libertarian 9,147 <1% Mervin A. Hanson, Sr. Independent 3,264 <1% *
1998 Russell D. Feingold 890,059 51% Mark W. Neumann 852,272 48% Template:Party shading/ConstitutionUSA |Robert R. Raymond Template:Party shading/ConstitutionUSA |U.S. Taxpayers Template:Party shading/ConstitutionUSA align="right" |7,942 Template:Party shading/ConstitutionUSA align="right" |<1% Tom Ender Libertarian 5,591 <1% Eugene A. Hem Independent 4,266 <1% *
2004 Russell D. Feingold 1,632,697 55% Tim Michels 1,301,183 44% Arif Khan Libertarian 8,367 <1% Eugene A. Hem Independent 6,662 <1% *
*Write-in and minor candidate notes: In 1992, Robert L. Kundert received 2,747 votes, Joseph Selliken received 2,733 votes, and other write-ins received 459 votes. In 1998, write-ins received 706 votes. In 2004, write-ins received 834 votes.


Feingold: A New Democratic Party. by Sanford D. Horwitt. ISBN 141653492X


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  57. S. 1805, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,, retrieved on 2007-08-27 
  58. Senate votes to let pilots carry firearms,, retrieved on 2007-08-27 
  59. "Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold on the Gun Manufacturers Liability Bill". March 2, 2004. Retrieved on 2007-06-06. 
  61. "Russ Feingold: Legalize Gay Marriage". NewsMax Media. April 5, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-06-06. 
  62. "Senate committee approves gay marriage ban". MSNBC. May 18, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-06-05. 
  63. Sen. Russ Feingold to Speak
  64. "Election Statistics". Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Retrieved on 2007-08-08. 

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United States Senate
Preceded by
Bob Kasten (R)
United States Senator (Class 3) from Wisconsin
January 3, 1993-
Served alongside: Herb Kohl
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Sam Brownback
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution
January 4, 2007–present
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ed Garvey
Democratic Party nominee for United States Senator from Wisconsin
(Class 3)

1992, 1998, 2004
Succeeded by
Next election: 2010
Order of Precedence of the United States of America
Preceded by
Judd Gregg
R-New Hampshire
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Patty Murray
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Don Nickles
Youngest Member of the United States Senate
Succeeded by
Rick Santorum