Wisconsin Democrats aim to beat Senator Ron Johnson, but how?

CAMBRIDGE, Wis. (AP) – Among the red barns, trash cans and tractors on a dairy farm in southern Wisconsin, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes sat at a white picnic table painted with black spots to look like a dairy cow.

It was the latest stop on his “Barnes for Barns” trip through rural Wisconsin with the goal of appealing to voters who are more typically passionate about Republican victories in this densely divided state.

The discussion at Hinchley’s Dairy Farm with an invited group of farmers covered the expected topics – climate change, affordable health care, the alarming rise in farmers’ suicides and a decline in the small dairy farms that Wisconsin is known for. But it kept circling back to a key question:

How do you beat Ron Johnson, the Republican in power?

“We’re showing up,” said Barnes, the state’s lieutenant governor. “We talk directly to people about the challenges they face, which Ron Johnson has consistently ignored. I think one of the biggest problems is that many places outside of Milwaukee and Madison just have not seen enough Democrats. . “

Beating Johnson has annoyed Democrats ever since the former plastics producer blew onto the stage as an outsider to the tea party in 2010, beating Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, and doing so again in 2016. Along the way, Johnson has become one of Donald Trump’s most vocal – and to his opponents, most abominable – followers.

Johnson was first elected as a fiscal conservative, known for attacking spending and a desire to lower national debt. His campaign ads contained lots of bar charts and graphs. In recent years, as the coronavirus has risen and Trump has fallen, he has become a lightning rod as he exposed anti-science positions and embraced conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

Johnson raised untested COVID-19 treatments such as mouthwash and questioned the need for COVID-19 vaccines. He dismissed climate change as “bull–“. He joined the many Republicans who have downplayed the riots at the US capital on January 6, 2021, saying he was not afraid of the rebels but would have been concerned if they had been Black Lives Matter protesters.

More generally, Johnson voted in favor of a massive tax cut, which he recently admitted benefited his business and wealthy campaign donors; blocked proposals to hand out $ 1,200 stimulus checks to Americans; and argued against landing a federal contract that would have brought hundreds of jobs to Wisconsin.

Now, with control of the Senate at stake and Wisconsin among a handful of states with vomiting runs, Johnson is leading the way with voters with an energetic conservative base and with poor polls for a Democratic president whose party historically loses the midterm elections.

Still, there is still optimism among Democrats that Johnson – whose favorable rating was at 33% in February in the Marquette University Law School poll – is more vulnerable now than ever.

Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki said Johnson “benefited from two very good Republican years in ’10 and ’16. He can benefit from one again. The challenge is how to avoid that trend.” He added: “I think we can do it. He has given us enough groats for the mill.”

Democrats intend to paint Johnson as a man other than the voter elected in 2010, a person who transformed from an outside businessman who was concerned about national debt to, as Zepecki calls him, “a conspiracy theory. -powered crank. “

They hope Johnson’s most inflammatory comments will turn off just enough for the moderate Republicans who left Trump in the Milwaukee suburbs, and just enough of the roughly 7% of independent voters to tip things their way.

The desire to beat Johnson has so far largely united the top Democrats in the Senate race before the primary election on 9 August.

Alex Lasry, a director at the Milwaukee Bucks – his father, Marc, is a co-owner – has spent millions on TV commercials as he sues for organized labor and attacks Johnson as an anti-worker.

Sarah Godlewski, Treasurer, portrays Johnson as an out-of-touch extremist in his ads. She has been approved by Emily’s List.

Tom Nelson, Outagamie County director, goes after money but leads wisely and cuts creative online videos that include a collection of garage sales (his kids’ dinosaur toys for $ 10).

Barnes, who is black, leads the democratic field in money, endorsements and early polls. Aside from rural voters, his winning strategy almost certainly depends on giving energy to minority voters in his hometown of Milwaukee – a huge cache of liberal votes that is the key to any Democrat who can run across the country.

Republicans reject Barnes’ turn through rural Wisconsin, pointing to comments he made in the 2018 gubernatorial race in which he said he was not interested in winning Trump voters. (Barnes later said he wanted to appeal to all “forgotten” voters.) They also reject the broader democratic strategy of attacking Johnson as extreme, saying similar attacks failed in his last two races.

“At this point, I just can not see the game plan where the Republicans will leave in droves,” said longtime GOP strategist Brandon Scholz. “This is a 50-50 state. In a competitive race, if both sides do their job, someone will win by a point or two.”

Johnson’s campaign spokesman Jake Wilkins said the senator’s strategy for winning is to “work hard and simply tell the truth.”

“The Democrats’ strategy is obvious,” Wilkins said. ‘They will continue to lie and distort his record and take everything he says out of context to misrepresent his position on the issues. His biggest challenges will be the massive spending from liberal external groups and the party-political liberal media advocating for Democrats by pushing the message and agenda of the radical left. “

As long as Johnson can maintain the same margins that Trump did in more rural parts of Wisconsin, and perform as well in the suburbs of Milwaukee counties as he did in 2016, he will win, said Republican strategist Keith Gilkes, who previously led Governor Scott Walker’s. first campaign.

Plus, Wisconsin has a long history of electing maverick politicians – like Feingold and Joseph McCarthy, the disgraced communist hunter that many on the left have increasingly compared to Johnson.

Johnson has not always had the full support of the Republican Party, but with so much at stake this year, it does not appear to be questionable. The Senate Leadership Fund, a top Republican super-PAC, is “all-in” re-electing Johnson, its spokesman Jack Pandol said.

Johnson can also benefit from the big Democratic primary where millions have already been spent and where Republicans hope the winner will have to move that far to the left to win, he or she will lack money and proposed.

If the economy and inflation remain top issues for voters this fall, Johnson will win, said Gilkes, the Republican strategist.

“If it’s not relevant to what the current conversation is, people simply do not care,” Gilkes said. “I think Trump proved it in 2016. There are a number of regrettable comments that the president made and he still won.”

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