CAMBRIDGE, Wis. ( Associated Press) — In the red barns, bins and tractors of a southern Wisconsin dairy farm, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes sat at a white picnic table painted with black spots to resemble a dairy cow.
It was the latest stop on his “Barnes for Barnes” tour through rural Wisconsin, aimed at appealing to voters who usually promote a Republican victory in this closely divided state.
Discussions with an invited group of farmers at Hinchley’s Dairy Farm included expected topics—climate change, affordable health care, the alarming rise in farmer suicides, and the decline of the small dairy farms Wisconsin is known for. But it swirled back to an important question:
How do you beat Republican incumbent Ron Johnson?
“We show up,” said state lieutenant governor Barnes. “We talk to people directly about the challenges they face and which Ron Johnson has consistently overlooked. I think one of the biggest problems is a lot of places outside of Milwaukee and Madison, where there aren’t enough Democrats. Huh.
Beating Johnson has haunted Democrats ever since the former plastics maker burst onto the scene as a Tea Party outsider in 2010 and Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold, and did it again in 2016. Along the way, Johnson has become one of Donald Trump’s most vocal — and to his detractors, the most disgusting — supporters.
Johnson was first chosen as a fiscal conservative, known for his desire to attack spending and reduce the national debt. His campaign ads had a lot of bar graphs and charts. In recent years, as the coronavirus escalated and Trump fell, he has become a lightning rod as he took on anti-science positions and embraced conspiracy theories in the 2020 election.
Johnson extended unproven COVID-19 treatments such as mouthwash and questioned the need for COVID-19 vaccines. He dismissed climate change as a “bull–“. He joins several Republicans who downplayed the January 6, 2021 rioting at the US Capitol, saying he was not intimidated by insurgents but worried if they were Black Lives Matter protesters.
Broadly speaking, Johnson voted for massive tax cuts, which he recently acknowledged benefited his business and wealthy campaign donors; Blocked proposals to distribute $1,200 stimulus checks to Americans; and argued against landing a federal contract that could have brought hundreds of jobs to Wisconsin.
Now, with control of the Senate and Wisconsin in a handful of states running a toss-up race, Johnson goes before voters with an active conservative base and poor turnout numbers for a Democratic president whose party has historically won midterm elections. I lose.
Still, there is optimism among Democrats that Johnson – whose favorable rating was 33% in a Marquette University Law School poll in February – is now weaker than ever.
Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki said Johnson “benefited from two very good Republican years in ’10 and ’16. He may have an advantage once again. The challenge is how do you buck that trend.” He continued: “I think we can do it. He has given us enough grain for the mill.”
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Democrats intend to portray Johnson as a different person from a voter elected in 2010, someone who is manipulated by an outside businessman worried about the national debt, as Zepecki puts it, “a Conspiracy theory-fueled crank.”
They’re hoping Johnson’s most incendiary comments will be close enough for moderate Republicans leaving Trump in the Milwaukee suburbs and enough for the nearly 7% of independent voters to tilt things their way.
The desire to defeat Johnson, for now, has largely united top Democrats in the race for the Senate ahead of the Aug. 9 primary.
Alex Larry, a Milwaukee Bucks executive—his father, Mark, is part owner—spent millions on television commercials as he organized labor and attacked Johnson as anti-activist.
State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski has portrayed Johnson as an out-of-touch extremist in her advertisements. She is endorsed by Emily’s List.
Tom Nelson, Outgamy County’s executive, is behind on the money, but tactfully leads, cutting creative online videos that include a garage sale fundraiser (his kids’ dinosaur toys for $10).
Barnes, who is black, leads the Democratic field in money, advertising, and early elections. Rural voters aside, his winning strategy almost certainly depends on activating minority voters in his hometown of Milwaukee—a huge cache of liberal votes that’s important to any Democrat running across the state.
Republicans rejected Barnes’ swing through rural Wisconsin, pointing to comments he made in the 2018 gubernatorial race that he was not interested in winning over Trump voters. (Barnes later said he wanted to appeal to all “forgotten” voters.) He also rejected the broader Democratic strategy of attacking Johnson, saying similar attacks in his previous two races had failed. are.
“At this point, I don’t see the game plan where Republicans are going to go to a draw,” said longtime GOP strategist Brandon Scholz. “It is a 50-50 state. In a competitive race, if both sides do their job, one is going to win by a point or two. ,
Johnson campaign spokesman Jake Wilkins said the senator’s strategy for winning is “to work hard and just tell the truth.”
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“The Democrats’ strategy is clear,” Wilkins said. “They will continue to lie and distort about her record and take everything she says out of context to misrepresent her stance on issues. Their biggest challenge will be massive spending by liberal outside groups, and the partisan liberal media that advocates for Democrats by advancing the message and agenda of the radical left. ,
As long as Johnson can maintain the same margin that Trump did in more rural parts of Wisconsin, and perform well in suburban Milwaukee counties as he did in 2016, he will win, Republican strategist Keith Gilkes said, who ran for former Governor Scott Walker. First campaign.
Furthermore, Wisconsin has a long history of electing temperamental politicians—such as Feingold and Joseph McCarthy, disgraced communist hunters whose left many are rising faster than Johnson.
Johnson hasn’t always had the full backing of the Republican founding, but there’s so much on the line this year that there’s no doubt. The Senate Leadership Fund, a top Republican super PAC, is “all-in” on re-elected Johnson, said its spokesman, Jack Pandol.
Johnson could also benefit from big Democratic primaries where millions have already been spent and where Republicans expect the winner to move so far to the left, he will emerge cash and hurt.
Republican strategist Gilkes said if the economy and inflation remain top issues for voters, Johnson will win.
“If it’s not relevant to the current conversation, people just don’t care,” Gilkes said. “I think Trump proved that in 2016. The president has made a lot of regrettable comments and he still won.”