Internal polls always have a slight lean in the direction of whoever commissioned the poll. But considering the consistent disadvantage for Russ Feingold in public polling of his re-election campaign over the last month, this internal poll from FM3 has to provide at least a little comfort.

The topline numbers: Feingold 48, Ron Johnson 48. That includes leaners; without them Johnson ekes out a 45-43 advantage. The poll of 600 likely voters has a 4% margin of error. The pollster, Paul Maslin, attributes this comeback for Feingold to a renewed focus on the issues, particularly trade:

It is clear from several different data points that a major reason for this Feingold surge over the last week is the campaign’s emphasis on trade and the two candidates’ clear difference concerning various trade deals, including Johnson’s description of the resulting job loss as “creative destruction”. For the first time since the summer, Johnson’s unfavorable rating has increased (by nearly 10 points over the past ten days) while at the same time his favorable rating has dropped– to a level four points lower than Russ Feingold’s in this latest track.

Trade has been the unifying theme in many of the races in the industrial Midwest, where Democrats have tried to fight back against a tough political environment by painting their opponents as content to allow the outsourcing of American jobs. I saw this first-hand in Pennsylvania over the weekend, where all of Joe Sestak’s messaging was about Pat Toomey supporting Chinese jobs over American jobs.

The revelation that Ron Johnson used prison labor and put the health care costs on the state may have added to this dynamic.

Feingold and Johnson held a debate last night, and the novel Atlas Shrugged seemed to be on Ron Johnson’s mind more than anything of value. Feingold had Johnson on the defensive over out-of-state attack ads:

In one lively exchange Monday, Feingold repeatedly called on Johnson to ask outside special interest groups to cease running what Feingold called “millions of dollars” worth of TV commercials on Johnson’s behalf.

“I am not. I don’t want them,” Feingold said. “You say you don’t want them. Will you call on them to stop?”

“I have no control over them,” Johnson answered.

Feingold repeated his question.

“That’s their right to free speech,” Johnson continued.

“Will you ask them to stop?” Feingold said again. “That’s your right to free speech to say, ‘You can stop.’”

It’s possible that public polls will pick up this trend back to Feingold that his pollster claims, but we’ll have to see what the results bear out.