Incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson will win the GOP nomination in the Wisconsin Senate News primary bills. He will face the Democratic challenger, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, in November.
First elected in 2010, Johnson ran for re-election in 2016 promising his second term would be his last. After the Republican senator balked at running for re-election for months, he finally decided to run for a third term, arguing that his original pledge assumed Democrats would not control the White House, House and Senate.
There was never any doubt that Johnson would be the Republican nominee and the incumbent focused on Barnes, the Democratic nominee projected in the race, for weeks. Johnson once called Barnes a “radical leftist candidate,” saying he was a “progressive puppet to fundamentally change America.
Johnson has a lot going for him — namely voter dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden and Democrats in Washington — but a recent Marquette Law School poll found 46% of Wisconsin voters view him unfavorably, compared to 37 % who had a favorable opinion. It’s a problem Johnson and outside groups have tried to address, running a series of ads touting his role in fighting inflation and his role in a 2018 law that helped terminally ill patients access experimental drug treatments.
But many experts believe the race between Johnson and Barnes will be a mostly negative affair, with Wisconsin being a historically polarized state that has been a political hotbed since fights for union bargaining rights in 2011 and 2012. Top advisers to Johnson said they are ready for it and plan to define Barnes as someone who is out of step with most Wisconsin voters.
“(Barnes) is out of touch with where the majority of the state is,” Councilman Ben Voelkel said, citing some of the more liberal positions Barnes has held throughout his career. “Mandela Barnes talks a lot about his dad working the third shift. … Mandela Barnes did none of that. He was a career political activist.”
The race between Johnson and Barnes will be one of the most watched contests of 2022. President Donald Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016, but the state reverted to Democrats and President Joe Biden in 2020.