CHEESEHEADS WOULDN’T DO THIS, WOULD THEY?…. Several months ago, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) flirted with the idea of challenging Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in the 2010 midterms. When Thompson passed on the race, Dems were relieved. Whew, they said, it’s a good thing there aren’t other credible Wisconsin Republicans eyeing the race.

It’s safe to say that relief has disappeared.

Ron Johnson is one of the year’s stranger Senate candidates (and in 2010, that’s saying something). He’s the far-right candidate who rails against government intervention in private industry, but has sought and received federal aid for his business enterprises. He thinks “sunspots” cause global warming, which doesn’t make any sense. He’s argued that China is better for businesses than the United States. He thinks Greenland has snow because of global cooling. At the height of the BP oil spill disaster, he said he’d sell his BP stock, just as soon as it was more profitable for him.

More recently, Johnson has boasted in ads about his disdain for Social Security. Worse, he’s said he hates the stimulus, then got caught seeking stimulus funds, and then said asking for stimulus money isn’t proof that he wanted the money.

Given all of this, it’s awfully difficult to take Ron Johnson seriously. He’s running in a fairly reliable “blue” state against a terrific Democratic incumbent, so it’s tempting to think this shouldn’t even be a close contest.

Think again.

An enormous enthusiasm gap, coupled with a Republican nominee fresh from a decisive primary win and unsullied by the primary process, has catapulted Republican nominee Ron Johnson to a double-digit advantage over incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold, according to PPP’s poll of the state on behalf of Daily Kos. […]

As our polling partner at PPP, Tom Jensen, noted: “Wisconsin is seeing one of the most severe enthusiasm gaps in the country.”

As hard as this seems to believe, Johnson, the deeply confused conservative with no background in government, is now leading Feingold in the PPP poll, 52% to 41%. No, that’s not a typo.

It’s easier to understand the enthusiasm gap among rank-and-file Democrats when we’re talking about an incumbent who’s repeatedly disappointed the left, but Feingold is arguably one of the Senate’s most consistent progressives.

Granted, Wisconsin voters probably haven’t gotten to know Johnson especially well, and haven’t learned about some of his more laughable approaches to public policy. But with six weeks left, Russ Feingold appears to be in real trouble — as hard as that is to understand.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.