Democratic Field Thins in Wisconsin US Senate Primary, Consolidates Behind Barnes

By Nanette Holt
Nanette Holt
Nanette Holt
Nanette covers a wide range of issues, mostly in Georgia and her home state of Florida. She started as a journalist in a competitive, daily-newspaper market, and later launched a community newspaper in a geographic area ignored by other media. She spent many years writing and editing for a variety of national and international magazines, and has been hired to coach best-selling authors for book publishers. When she’s not chasing news, Nanette enjoys cattle ranch life with her husband, three children, and far too many horses, goats, cats, and dogs.
August 3, 2022 Updated: August 5, 2022

Three candidates have dropped out ahead of Wisconsin’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary on Aug. 9 as the party appears to be consolidating support behind Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski’s decision to withdraw from the race on July 29 came after Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson dropped out on July 25 and Barnes’s top rival, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, followed suit on July 27. Godlewski and Nelson had been trailing Barnes and Lasry by double digits in public polling.

The exits may have removed the toughest competition facing Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, an analyst told The Epoch Times. Johnson, a two-term incumbent and close ally of Donald Trump, is expected to advance past his primary challenger to the Nov. 8 general election.

The narrowed field practically clears the path for Barnes to advance to the general election, Republican elections analyst Joe Handrick says. While four other Democratic hopefuls remain in the race against Barnes, polls suggest that each has limited support among voters.

Epoch Times Photo
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes speaks to the crowd gathered at Civic Center Park located outside of the Kenosha County Courthouse, in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 29, 2020. (Jim Vondruska/Reuters)

With control of the Senate possibly resting on the outcome, Wisconsin could have one of “the tightest” finishes in the country, Handrick says.

Barnes, 35, would become the state’s first black U.S. senator if elected. He served two terms in the state Legislature before being elected lieutenant governor in 2018.

Headed into the Aug. 9 primary, Barnes’s website lists his priorities. They include “fighting inflation and lowering taxes” for the middle class, “reproductive justice” in the form of “abortion rights,” the legalization of marijuana use, “LGBTQIA+ rights,” helping “those who are coming to the U.S. in search of better lives,” and “climate change” that’s “already taking a toll on our communities.”

“He’s gonna walk away with it” in the primary, Handrick said. “Nobody’s even heard of these other candidates that are left.”

Epoch Times Photo
David Schroeder is challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in the Wisconsin GOP primary on Aug. 9. (Courtesy of David Schroeder)

If Barnes wins on Aug. 9, he likely will face Johnson, who first took office in 2011 after defeating Democrat incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold. Johnson beat Feingold again in a 2016 rematch.

In the Republican primary, Johnson hopes voters will deliver him a victory over postal worker David Schroeder.

Schroeder has criticized Johnson for pushing back against mandates for COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic policies of President Joe Biden, saying Johnson was “promoting false and harmful information.”

Others have praised Johnson for questioning the federal government’s response.

Johnson’s official Senate website lists his accomplishments while serving as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee from 2015 through 2021.

Before entering politics, Johnson worked as an accountant and was part of launching and operating a family business that manufactures plastic sheets for printing and packaging.

He touts private sector experience as one of the most valuable perspectives he brings to the Senate. He has said the “size, scope, and cost of government” is the “root cause” of problems such as budget deficits, a slowed economy, and high unemployment.

Johnson is favored over any Democrat in November, according to political forecasters Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to regain majority control of the Senate; analysts across the nation have been predicting they’ll pick up as many as three. The chamber is currently tied 50–50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties in the Democrats’ favor.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) speaks with a supporter at a Hispanic voter event in an undated photo during his 2022 reelection campaign. (Courtesy of Ron Johnson for Senate)

“A lot of people are going to be voting against one of the candidates” in Wisconsin’s Senate race, Handrick said. “Ron Johnson has very high disapproval numbers. And relatively low approval numbers.

“And the Democratic candidate, Mandela Barnes, has an enormous amount of baggage, and is a relatively weak candidate, himself. And there’s gonna be $100 million put in [to campaign advertising].

“So the best way for each of these candidates to win is to tear down the other one. I just think it’s going to be a really negative campaign, where people end up going to the polls and voting for what they consider the lesser of two evils.”

Johnson may struggle to keep the hearts of his state’s voters for a few reasons, Handrick said. Whether it’s accurate or not, some paint him as far-right-wing, he said.

“Anybody who’s left of center [politically] would think that,” he said. “I, personally, think he’s pretty mainstream.”

What hurts Johnson more may be his delivery, Handrick says.

It’s “his forthrightness and the fact that he doesn’t use nuance much,” he said. “So he’s kind of hard-hitting, and that leads as much to his approval problems as the positions that he’s actually taking.”

Voters’ objection to his transparency is puzzling, he says.

“There’s really not much difference between him and some of the Republican governors, like [Florida’s] Ron DeSantis, who are pretty popular.”

Epoch Times Photo
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit held at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida, on July 22, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Having a “plain name” also may be a psychological barrier for voters, Handrick said.

“Everybody knows a Ron Johnson. So I’m not sure people ever really get to know him very well, which has its pros and cons,” he said.

“In the last two elections, in the polling, he’s always had a relatively large number of people who say they don’t really know him very well. I’ve always attributed part of that to having such a common name.”

However, in Barnes, “the Democrats are all unifying behind the person I consider to be the weakest candidate,” Handrick said.

“If the Democrats were smart, they would have nominated either State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, or Tom Nelson,” a county executive, Handrick said. But those two never “got any traction, and they were never polling very well.”

Godlewski, Nelson, and Lasry all have endorsed Barnes.

“The only two people who had a chance of winning this were Mandela Barnes and Alex Lasry—Lasry only because he has all his daddy’s money to play with,” Handrick said.

Lasry is the son of an owner of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise.

Epoch Times Photo
Hedge-fund billionaire Marc Lasry, co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, attends a press conference ahead of NBA game between Charlotte Hornets and Milwaukee Bucks in Paris on Jan. 24, 2020.  (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

“Barnes and Lasry were actually the candidates that the Republicans would most easily be able to tear down. So that’s good news for Johnson—that Tom Nelson is not going to be his opponent,” Handrick said.

Barnes didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Early voting opened on July 26, before two of the Democrats withdrew, so what happens for voters who cast ballots for candidates no longer in the race?

Wisconsin voters
Voters wait in line for hours to enter a polling place at Riverside University High School on April 7, 2020, in Milwaukee. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Those voters can request to “spoil” their ballot—rendering it void—either through a handwritten or emailed note to a local election clerk or worker at a polling place, according to the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s Office.

The request should include the reason why a new ballot is needed. Having cast a vote for a candidate no longer in the race is an acceptable reason. For most voters, the deadline to request a new ballot is Aug. 4. But the three candidates who dropped out still will be listed as choices on Democratic primary ballots.

Registered voters in Wisconsin choose which ballot they want to use in the primary—Republican or Democratic. They don’t officially choose a party affiliation when registering to vote in the state. As of Aug. 1, there were almost 3.47 million active registered voters in the state.

Nanette Holt
Nanette covers a wide range of issues, mostly in Georgia and her home state of Florida. She started as a journalist in a competitive, daily-newspaper market, and later launched a community newspaper in a geographic area ignored by other media. She spent many years writing and editing for a variety of national and international magazines, and has been hired to coach best-selling authors for book publishers. When she’s not chasing news, Nanette enjoys cattle ranch life with her husband, three children, and far too many horses, goats, cats, and dogs.