Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Russ Feingold endorsed gradually raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour Tuesday in his first major policy speech of the campaign.
"To me, this is fundamental,” Feingold said. "Low wages mean increased reliance on assistance programs, and less purchasing power for customers to buy needed goods and services locally. A living wage means being able to put healthy food on the table for your family."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a $15 minimum wage bill last month. So far, it has just three co-sponsors: Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
Feingold is running to retake his old seat against Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who beat the progressive Democrat in 2010.
Feingold emailed his supporters about his support for a higher minimum wage Wednesday, noting he's heard from voters around the state saying they can't make enough to get by.
"Too many Wisconsinites I've met say that what they do to scrape by -- from calculating which bills need to be paid first, to taking second jobs on the weekend, to keeping track of expenses like back-to-school supplies and winter coats, or just making sure the lights stay on -- is eating away their lives," he wrote.
"Our federal minimum wage is meant to make sure hard work is respected and rewarded," Feingold added. "But unfortunately the federal minimum wage has failed to keep up with either inflation or the purchasing power Americans need to get by. Just matching inflation since the '70s would add more than two dollars to our current federal minimum wage."
Johnson, meanwhile, opposes raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, saying it would hurt the economy.
"Minimum wage mandates from Washington often destroy jobs when they are poorly designed. The Congressional Budget Office affirms that fact and Ron opposes the Feingold plan to kill jobs with a $15 mandate," said campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger.
In July 2014, at a luncheon sponsored by WisPolitics.com, Johnson said he did not believe there should be a federal minimum wage as there currently is.
"The only area that I would agree with minimum wa
In 2011, Johnson also argued against raising the minimum wage by saying that "when you're a good worker, you don't stay at minimum wage for long."
A Marquette Law School poll in October found that a majority of Wisconsin voters support raising the minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour both on the federal level and in Wisconsin.
Reisinger said Johnson doesn't want to get rid of the minimum wage.
“Ron's first job as a dishwasher at a Walgreen's grill paid the minimum wage at the time of $1.45 per hour," he said. "Ron has not only worked for the minimum wage, he knows minimum wages laws are here to stay and we should design them to make sure they don’t hurt the very people they are designed to help."
This article has been updated to include comments from the Johnson campaign.