Democrats await Barnes in fall race against Ron Johnson
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes grew up in Milwaukee with a mother who was a public school teacher and a father who worked in a factory – both members of the union, an important reference in a state where the labor movement is always a strength.
At 35, Barnes is nearly half the age of the average U.S. senator and would join a small group of black senators — and be the first from Wisconsin — if he wins the House election.
The biography should make Barnes one of the most prominent Democrats in the United States this year, as the party aims to defeat one of its main targets: Republican Senator Ron Johnson. His ousting is such a priority that Barnes’s top Democratic rivals have dropped out of the primary in recent weeks to side with him, leaving Tuesday’s primary as a formality before what is sure to be a brutal and costly election campaign.
“I wanted to make sure we could win this fall,” closest rival Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry said when he quit and backed Barnes. “That’s goal No. 1.”
Ousting Johnson has never been a higher priority for Democrats with majority control of the Senate at stake. He is the only incumbent Senate Republican to seek re-election this year in a state carried by President Joe Biden. But Johnson proved hard to beat as he went from tea party stranger to one of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters and senior senator from Wisconsin.
This election is Johnson’s first against someone other than Russ Feingold, whom he defeated in 2010 and then in a rematch in 2016, losses that still sting Liberals in the swing state. Johnson is seeking a third term after saying he would not.
“Democrats will go through fire and broken glass to beat Ron Johnson,” said Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki.
Increasingly focused on fall, Barnes emphasizes an ordinary man image in campaign adsincluding one at a grocery store where he says most senators don’t know what a gallon of milk costs.
“But I’m not like most senators,” Barnes said, walking down the aisle of the store. “Or any of the other millionaire Senate candidates. My mom was a teacher and my dad worked third shift.
Barnes served four years in the state Assembly representing Milwaukee before winning the 2018 statewide lieutenant governor primary to be matched with Governor Tony Evers. Evers went on to defeat Gov. Scott Walker, who enraged Democrats for eight years in office, including over his Act 10 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.
Barnes, who still has to overcome a handful of little-known opponents on Tuesday, has already set his sights on Johnson. He frequently compares beating Walker to what it will take to deny Johnson a third term.
“It’s going to be tough, tough battle,” Barnes said after Lasry dropped out of the race. “But I know it will be a lot easier because we are in the same boat. And I remind you that four years ago the race to get rid of Scott Walker was a difficult one, a race that many in the audience today said was impossible. But we did it because we came together.
Johnson raised about $7 million in donations between April and June, more than the entire Democratic field. Barnes raised approximately $2.1 million. But in the week after Lasry and the others left, Barnes reported raising $1.1 million.
Barnes has built the most comprehensive campaign of the primary, with key endorsements from Vermont Senators Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, raising funds and delivering a message focused on this middle class. education. When it was reported during the 2018 campaign that Barnes had earned so little that he paid no income tax and participated in the state Medicaid program, he adopted it as evidence that he understood how essential the program was for workers.
Barnes laid out his attack strategy in his first TV spot after his main rivals pulled out, accusing Johnson of being ‘out of touch with Wisconsin’, citing Johnson’s decision not to try to save 1,000 jobs by quitting the ‘State. Johnson said at the time that Wisconsin had enough jobs.
Johnson and the Republicans are already at work, describing Barnes as too liberal for Wisconsin. In a state that Trump won in 2016 and lost in 2020 by a nearly equal number of votes, the election will likely once again come down to who can win independents, a small but key group.
“The power brokers of the Democratic Party have now cleared the ground for their most radical leftist candidate,” Johnson tweeted ahead of the primary. “Socialist policies have produced this mess, and a radical left senator from Wisconsin is not the solution.”
The Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee that works to get Republicans elected, targeted Barnes for holding an “Abolish ICE” t-shirt; his positive comments on the Green New Deal and Medicaid for all; and a 2020 tweet in which he said, “Defunding the police only dreams of being as radical as a Donald Trump pardon.”
Republicans also attacked Barnes for supporting an end to cash bail and comments he made during a mayoral candidate last fall about the country’s founding that referenced slavery and colonization. “The United States is the richest and most powerful nation in the world, and it’s because of forced labor on stolen land,” Barnes said.
Winning the primary without dealing with coming attacks could come back to haunt Democrats, said Brian Reisinger, a Republican strategist and former Johnson campaign staffer.
“The question for Democrats now is whether they had a thorough vetting process to have a candidate who can do what they haven’t done before,” Reisinger said. “It’s not clear if they’ve really figured out who can beat Ron Johnson. These candidates haven’t really tested each other.
Barnes deflected a question about whether he would be a stronger candidate had the Democratic primary been more contentious.
“What’s most important is that we’re experiencing a unity that’s never been seen before,” Barnes said. “In this state, we set out to build a broad coalition. That’s exactly what we do. It’s about uniting the party. And I would say that we are more united than we have ever been before.
Johnson was first elected as a fiscal conservative, known for his attacks on spending and his intention to reduce the national debt. In recent years, as the coronavirus has risen and Trump has fallen, he has become a lightning rod for anti-science stances and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
He joined the many Republicans who downplayed the riot at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, saying he was not scared of insurgents but would have been worried had they been Black Lives Matter protesters . It also emerged during a recent House committee hearing on Jan. 6 that Johnson wanted to hand-deliver the ballots. thrown by fake GOP voters at Vice President Mike Pence.
Johnson’s approval rating in a June 22 Marquette University Law School poll was just 37%, lower than President Joe Biden’s 40% approval rating. But Johnson was about even in matchups with Barnes. However, Republicans’ enthusiasm was higher than that of Democrats to vote in the upcoming primary.
Democratic voter Leah Siordia, who attended a Barnes rally with Warren, said she made her choice based on who she thought could beat Johnson. Before Lasry gave up, the 57-year-old retired computer analyst was considering her, but she was leaning towards Barnes.
“He’s a real person to me, not just a billionaire,” Siordia said of Barnes. And she added, “Everybody’s better than Johnson.”