Wisconsin Democrat Mandela Barnes nominated to run against unpopular GOP Sen. Ron Johnson


The state's lieutenant governor easily won the Wisconsin Democratic Senate nomination on Tuesday.

Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes on Tuesday decisively won the Democratic primary, securing his party's nomination to run against incumbent Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson in the general election on Nov. 8.

Barnes received 78% of the vote after his three main opponents dropped out and backed him in the past few weeks.

Johnson won the Republican primary in his quest for a third six-year term despite his earlier promise not to run for more than two terms and a 2011 attempt to amend the Constitution to impose a two-term limit on senators.

He has since claimed he did not need to keep his promise because "the country is in a different place today than it was in 2016" and "I just decided, well, I can't turn my back at this moment, our country, I'm in a position where I can, I think, I can help improve things."

Barnes, who would be Wisconsin's first Black U.S. senator, is a former community organizer and state legislator who was elected lieutenant governor in 2018. He is running on a platform of support for abortion rights, middle-class tax cuts, affordable child care, climate infrastructure, LGBTQ equality, and cannabis legalization.

In a statement provided by his campaign after he won the nomination, Barnes said: "Only in Wisconsin would it be possible for the son of a third shift auto worker and a public school teacher who grew up on 26th and Locust to go on to become Lt. Governor and the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. Growing up, I didn't see a lot of politicians that looked like me or had my lived experiences. I didn't see a lot of candidates who had lived a working class life. Frankly, I still don't."

Polls have shown the vast majority of Wisconsin voters do not approve of the job Johnson has done. Behind only Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, he was ranked as America's second-least popular senator in an Morning Consult Political Intelligence 50-state survey conducted in the first quarter of 2022.

Johnson has blamed his low level of support — around 35% approval in several recent polls — on the media and suggested he does not deserve such poor numbers.

But over his 12 years in the Senate, he has frequently taken positions that are at odds with the preferences of his constituents and with reality.

In 2017, Johnson backed then-President Donald Trump's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act only after insisting on adding provisions benefiting so-called "pass-through" entities, businesses that pay taxes through the personal filings of their owners. His actions saved two of his largest megadonors tens of millions of dollars in taxes and also helped his own bottom line.

"Now, did my business benefit? Sure. Did some of my donor businesses? Sure. When you give tax relief to everybody, everybody benefits," Johnson reportedly told supporters in April.

Johnson received significant criticism from workers earlier this year after he refused to ask Wisconsin firm Oshkosh Defense, another large donor to his campaigns, to locate new jobs under a government contract in the state, saying Wisconsin already had "enough jobs."

He opposed federal legislation to support the U.S. microchip industry as it competes against China, saying the government should not be "picking winners and losers."

Johnson has repeatedly pushed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which makes health insurance coverage available to 31 million Americans.

He backs a ban on nearly all abortions and is co-sponsor of a resolution to declare the week of the November election "National Pregnancy Center Week" in honor of anti-abortion so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" that manipulate pregnant patients with lies and misinformation to prevent them from choosing to have an abortion.

On Aug. 2, Johnson argued that federal funding of Medicare and Social Security, the nation's social safety net entitlement programs that provide health care and retirement income to millions of Americans, should no longer be mandatory and should become optional each year.

"What we ought to be doing is we ought to turn everything into discretionary spending, so it's all evaluated, so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken, that are going to be going bankrupt," he told Wisconsin radio station WTAQ.

Johnson has consistently opposed LGBTQ equality, claiming that an explicit federal ban on discrimination would "have horrible unintended consequences" and intentionally misgendering transgender kids.

He has fought against legislation to curb gun violence, voting against debating the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act compromise bill in June.

Johnson has been one of the nation's leading purveyors of false information about COVID-19 and coronavirus vaccines.

He also pushed debunked claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election and was implicated in an unsuccessful attempt to use fraudulent pro-Trump electors to overturn President Joe Biden's Electoral College victory.

Johnson, a multimillionaire, has been a national leader in the fight against providing affordable child care for working parents. In January, he told a reporter, "I've never really felt it was society's responsibility to take care of other people's children."

After constituents grilled him over the comment, he suggested that struggling single mothers should take care of each other's kids.

The Wisconsin Senate race is expected to be close. The most recent Marquette University Law School poll, conducted in June, found Barnes leading Johnson 46%-44% among registered voters.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.