Lt. Mandela Barnes grew up in Milwaukee, the son of a public-school teacher and a factory-working father—both unionized, an important credential in a state where the labor movement remains a force.
Barnes, 35, is almost half the average age of a U.S. senator, and if he wins the House election, he will join a small group of black senators — and the first from Wisconsin.
The biography would make Barnes one of the most prominent Democrats in America this year as the party aims to defeat one of its top targets: Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. His ouster is such a priority that Barnes’s main Democratic rival has pulled out of the primaries in recent weeks to rally around him, leaving Tuesday’s primary election largely ahead of what is sure to be a brutal and expensive election. a form.
“I want to make sure we win this fall,” said his closest competitor, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, as he pulled out in favor of Barnes. “This is the number one goal.”
Removing Johnson has never been a higher priority for Democrats with majority control of the Senate. He is the only incumbent Senate Republican to seek re-election in a state where President Joe Biden is located this year. But Johnson has proved hard to beat, as he has grown from a Tea Party outsider to one of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters and a top senator from Wisconsin.
The election was Johnson’s first confrontation with anyone other than Ross Fingold, who he defeated in rematches in 2010 and 2016, losses that still keep swing states liberal feel sad. Johnson has previously said he will not run for a third term.
Democratic strategist Joe Zepecky said: “The Democrats will go through fire and broken glass to defeat Ron Johnson.”
As he’s increasingly focused on fall, Barnes has highlighted images of ordinary people in campaign ads, including one at the grocery store, where he says most senators don’t know the cost of a gallon of milk.
“But I’m not like most senators,” Barnes said, walking down the aisle of the store. “Or any other millionaire running for the Senate. My mom is a teacher and my dad works three shifts.”
Barnes served four years in the state legislature representing Milwaukee before winning the statewide primary for lieutenant governor in 2018, partnering Gov. Tony Evers. Evers then defeated Gov. Scott Walker, who angered Democrats during his eight years in office, best known for his Bill 10, which effectively ended collective bargaining for most public officials.
Barnes, who still had to overcome a handful of lesser-known opponents on Tuesday, had his sights set on Johnson. He has often compared defeating Walker to denying Johnson a third term.
“It’s going to be a tough, tough fight,” Barnes said after Lasry dropped out. “But I know it’s going to be a lot easier because we’re together. I’m going to remind you that four years ago, getting rid of Scott Walker was a tough one, and today a lot of viewers say it’s 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 about $2.1 million. But a week after Lasry and others pulled out, Barnes reported raising $1.1 million.
Barnes built the most comprehensive campaign in the primary, with major support from the likes of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. , raised funds and delivered a message focusing on middle-class upbringing. When it was reported during the 2018 campaign that Barnes earned so little income that he paid no income tax and was enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program, he accepted it as his understanding of the program’s importance to working people evidence of.
Barnes previewed his offensive strategy in his first TV ad after his arch-rival pulled out, accusing Johnson of being “out of touch with Wisconsin,” citing Johnson’s decision not to try to save 1,000 moving-out-state jobs post. Johnson said at the time that there were enough jobs in Wisconsin.
Johnson and Republicans are already working to paint Barnes as too liberal for Wisconsin. In states Trump won in 2016 and lost by nearly equal votes in 2020, the election is likely to once again boil down to the small but crucial group of independents who win.
“Democratic power brokers have now cleared the way for their most radical left-wing candidate,” Johnson tweeted ahead of the primary. “Socialist policies have created 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 supportive comments on the Green New Deal and Medicaid for All; and one of his 2020 tweets “Defunding the police is just a dream as radical as a Donald Trump pardon,” it said.
Republicans also slammed Barnes for his support for ending cash bail, as well as comments he made last fall about nationhood at a candidate town hall, which referenced slavery and colonization. “America is the richest and most powerful country on earth because of forced labor on stolen land,” Barnes said.
Republican strategist and former Johnson campaign member Brian Reisinger said winning the primary without facing an looming attack could come back to haunt Democrats.
“The question for Democrats now is whether they have a thorough vetting process so that there is a candidate who can do something they haven’t done before,” Reisinger said. “It’s unclear if they actually figured out who could beat Ron Johnson. The candidates haven’t really tested each other.”
Barnes diverted the question of whether he would be a stronger candidate if the Democratic primary was more contentious.
“The bottom line is that we are experiencing unprecedented unity,” Barnes said. “In this state, we’re starting to build a broad coalition. We’re doing that. It’s about Unity. I’d say we’re more united than ever.”
Johnson was first elected as a fiscal conservative, known for attacking spending and intent on lowering the national debt. In recent years, with the rise of the coronavirus and the decline of Trump, he has become an anti-science stance and conspiracy theory for the 2020 election lightning rod.
He joins a number of Republicans who have played down the riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, saying he was not intimidated by the insurgents, but if they were Black Lives Matter protesters, He will be worried. News that Johnson had wanted to hand fake Republican votes to Vice President Mike Pence also emerged during a recent House committee hearing on Jan. 6.
Johnson’s approval rating in a June 22 Marquette University Law School poll was just 37 percent, below President Joe Biden’s 40 percent approval rating. But Johnson was even in the showdown with Barnes. However, Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting in the upcoming primary than Democrats.
Democratic voter Leah Cidia, who attended the Barnes rally with Warren, said she was picked based on who she thought could beat Johnson. Before Lasry dropped out, the 57-year-old retired computer analyst was considering him, but she leaned toward Barnes.
“He’s a real person to me, not just a billionaire,” Cidia said of Barnes. She added: “Anyone is better than Johnson.”