Wisconsin’s Johnson embraces controversy in reelection bid

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Removed from shying from his contrarian repute, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Jonson is leaning into controversy as he runs for his third time period.

Johnson has referred to as for the top of assured cash for Medicare and Social Safety, two common packages that American politicians normally steer clear from. He is trafficked in conspiracy theories concerning the 2020 election and dabbled in pseudoscience across the coronavirus.

His Democratic challenger, Lt. gov. Mandela Barnes, has gone in a safer route, cultivating a picture as a nonthreatening defender of the center class with TV adverts displaying him hitting baseballs, delivering pizzas to kids and searching for groceries.

Their race is considered one of a handful across the nation that would resolve management of the Senate subsequent yr, and the one one with an incumbent Republican in search of reelection in a state carried by President Joe Biden. It is also shaping up because the sort of razor shut end that is grow to be widespread in Wisconsin, the place donald trump carried the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016 after which misplaced to Biden by about the identical margin two years in the past.

Polls counsel {that a} Barnes edge in midsummer, seemingly propelled by his emergence as key Democratic rivals dropped out proper earlier than the state’s major election, has evaporated below a barrage of assault adverts from Johnson and his allies. A Marquette College Legislation College ballot in mid-September had the race inside the margin of error, with Barnes’ unfavorable rankings rising by 10 proportion factors from a month earlier.

“Ron Johnson is not doing something to try to transfer his favorables up,” stated Alex Lasry, a Milwaukee Bucks government who was Barnes’ first fundamental rival to go away the race and throw assist to Barnes. “I feel Ron Johnson’s marketing campaign is aware of the voters don’t love him. What Johnson’s attempting to do is drag everybody into the mud.”

Keith Gilkes, a GOP strategist who ran former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s first marketing campaign, stated Johnson is solely defining Barnes and transferring independents into his personal camp.

“Now the strain is again on Barnes,” Gilkes stated. “How is he going to reply?”

Barnes, 35, and Johnson, 67, could not be extra totally different.

Johnson, a former plastics producer, is a millionaire a number of instances over. Barnes, the state’s lieutenant governor and doubtlessly the state’s first Black senator, has championed his modest upbringing in Milwaukee because the youngster of a public college trainer and a United Auto Employees member.

Barnes’ messaging has tracked with that background, with speak of returning manufacturing to the state, defending union jobs and serving to small farmers — a play for rural voters who’ve slipped away from Democrats lately.

He has typically struggled financially as an grownup, too — one thing he sought to show to his benefit when attacked for paying his property taxes late. In considered one of his latest TV adverts, Barnes says: “There have been instances I used to be getting by on peanut butter sandwiches. And that is why I assist a tax lower for the center class.”

Johnson and his allies have accused him of talking in platitudes slightly than intimately about his plans, avoiding unscripted moments in entrance of reporters and hiding from voters.

When Barnes agreed to a single televised debate subsequent month, Johnson — who had provided to do two extra — pounced: “I can not drive the opposite man out of hiding.” Barnes later agreed to a second debate.

Lots of the assaults towards Barnes from Johnson and Republicans have centered on violent crime and public security, points that polls present are issues for voters this yr. When Barnes needed to take away the endorsement of two regulation enforcement officers from his web site — the marketing campaign stated one was a clerical error, and the opposite one reportedly wasn’t conscious his identify could be made public — Johnson capitalized by releasing endorsements from a majority of Wisconsin sheriffs, together with Democrats.

Barnes’ backers have stated that adverts attacking him on crime, together with one from the Nationwide Republican Senatorial Committee citing his assist for ending money bail and calling him “harmful,” are racist. The spot options footage of a automotive plowing via a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, final yr together with photographs of the Black man charged with killing six folks and injuring dozens of others.

Barnes has talked about transferring funding away from police departments to social service businesses, however he says he doesn’t assist defunding police. He rolled out a brand new advert final week that featured a retired Racine police sergeant declaring his belief in Barnes. And his marketing campaign has highlighted appearances across the state to argue that he is operating an “open and accessible” marketing campaign.

When he is not attacking Barnes, Johnson is speaking about points that politicians going through an election usually keep away from.

He has repeatedly referred to as for eradicating assured funding for Medicare and Social Safety, saying it is the one strategy to hold them viable. These feedback caught Biden’s consideration, with the president repeatedly calling Johnson out by identify for wanting “to place Social Safety and Medicare on the chopping block yearly.”

Johnson has additionally embraced conspiracy theories concerning the 2020 election, although Biden’s win has been upheld by quite a few courts, withstood partisan and impartial investigations and weathered partial recounts in Wisconsin.

Johnson additionally dismissed issues about local weather change, stated that he would have been extra fearful in the course of the Jan. 6, 2021, riots if the US Capitol invaders had been Black Lives Matter protesters, and advocated for unproven and untested different therapies for COVID-19, saying mouthwash might be one strategy to combat the virus.

“Ron Johnson has by no means been a barrel of sunshine, proper?” stated Mark Graul, a Republican strategist who ran Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush’s 2004 state marketing campaign. “Him taking positions that aren’t precisely polling via the roof is what makes him Ron Johnson. … He isn’t out right here eager to be liked.”

Wisconsin’s shut races usually activate whether or not Democratic turnout within the city facilities of Milwaukee and Madison counter Republican strengths in rural areas and the Milwaukee suburbs. It additionally issues which candidate can higher faucet into the Points most essential to independentsstated Scott Spector, who ran Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s profitable 2018 marketing campaign.

That features abortion — maybe the one space the place Johnson is displaying warning given polls displaying a robust majority again it being authorized. Johnson just lately stated that questions on Wisconsin’s abortion ban ought to be determined by a statewide vote, however when Democratic Gov. Tony Evers prompt a method to try thisJohnson balked.

Gilkes, the Republican strategist, stated Barnes must “rise to the second” within the marketing campaign’s last weeks and pivot from defending himself to being extra aggressive in taking up Johnson.

“He wants to repair the messaging, get centered and get on the market extra to finally achieve success,” Gilkes stated. “That circulation goes towards Mandela. He is being overwhelmed by it proper now.”

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