Oshkosh, Wisconsin (CNN) – Wisconsin Senate hopeful Ron Johnson likes to shun labels.
"I'm just a guy from Oshkosh," the millionaire plastics manufacturer told CNN in an interview Wednesday at his campaign headquarters, ticking through his private sector accomplishments and his fondness for recreation league basketball.
Voters would be forgiven if they somehow miss the fact that Johnson, who is hoping to unseat three-term incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold in November, is a Republican. Nowhere on his signage or campaign literature does the word "Republican" appear, and Johnson seems to want to put some space between himself and the party.
"Obviously when you run for something like this you have got to choose sides," Johnson explained Wednesday, calling himself a fiscal conservative who is "far more aligned with the Republican Party."
"I have been a member of the Republican Party, but the fact of the matter is I am trying to appeal to voters across the political spectrum, and I am getting a lot of support," he said. "Democrats, independents, Tea Party folks and Republicans. A lot of us all share the very real concern about what happens in this country. So I am not identifying myself as a Republican real blatantly."
On the campaign trail, he says, voters are so concerned about spending and debt that "they don't talk about parties at all."
That non-partisan rhetoric may be one reason Johnson is leading Feingold by a six point margin in a new CNN/TIME/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Wednesday.
Johnson holds a 51 to 45 advantage over Feingold among likely Wisconsin voters, with four percent either undecided or backing other candidates. The poll's sampling error for likely voters is plus or minus three points.
But the survey indicates that Feingold holds a two point advantage over Johnson among the larger pool of all registered voters, with six percent undecided or supporting other candidates.
Both candidates have solidified their bases, with 94 percent of Democrats and Republicans lining up behind their respective nominees. But according to the poll, Johnson holds a 10-point lead among independent voters.
Johnson said he's winning because voters are tired of veteran politicians like Feingold who march in lockstep with their party and don't "have a clue how to create jobs."
In an interview, though, Johnson took positions very much in line with the party he's representing on the ballot. He said he would have voted with Republicans on Tuesday against the bill to lift the military "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gays, and against the $30 bill small business bill that passed the Senate last week.
He also said he would have opposed TARP, President Obama's stimulus package and the health care reform bill, which he wants to repeal.
Johnson would not take a position on the budget roadmap proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, his fellow Wisconsinite, which would partially privatize Social Security and overhaul Medicare. "I think it's a starting point," Johnson said, applauding Ryan for at least proposing bold ideas on government spending.
The Feingold campaign called that comment "an extreme position" and said Johnson "will be nothing more than a loyal foot soldier for the partisan politics of Republicans in Washington."
"Our polling shows the race even," said Feingold spokesman John Kraus. "It's going be decided by a pretty small number of independent voters who have a clear choice between Russ's strong record of independence versus Mr. Johnson's extreme partisan views."
The Senate showdown isn't the only political battle attracting attention in the Badger State – there's also a closely watched governor's race between Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican.
The poll indicates that Walker has opened up double digit lead over Barrett, taking 53 percent of likely voters to Barrett's 42 percent, with four percent either undecided or supporting other candidates. Walker's advantage shrinks to three points among the larger pool of registered voters, with seven percent unsure or backing other candidates.
According to the survey, Walker leads by 21 points among Independent voters. The winner in November succeeds Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who decided against running for a third term this year.
The CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted September 17-21, with 1,366 registered voters in Wisconsin, including 963 likely voters questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error for registered voters is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
CORRECTION: The original version of this post had Johnson's lead among independents at 21 points. He leads by 10 among independents.