Mandela Barnes gets open path to take on Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson

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Mandela Barnes gets open path to take on Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson

The race is one of Democrats’ best chances of unseating a sitting Republican from the Senate.

Alex Lasry talks to Mandela Barnes after a press conference.

Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, left, withdrew from the Democratic Senate primary Wednesday afternoon and endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. | Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP

By HOLLY OTTERBEIN and MARIANNE LEVINE

07/27/2022 11:36 AM EDT

Updated: 07/27/2022 04:49 PM EDT

Democrats hoping to flip Wisconsin’s Senate seat got a boost Wednesday when one of the party’s leading candidates bowed out and endorsed a rival, virtually clearing the field ahead of an expensive, hotly contested general election.

Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry withdrew from the Democratic Senate primary Wednesday afternoon and endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes to take on Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.

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His departure from the race leaves a nearly open path for Barnes to capture the nomination in the Aug. 9 primary. Lasry, who loaned his campaign more than $12 million, has been Barnes’ top opponent for months.

Democrats welcomed the bombshell news, arguing that it will give Barnes a head start against Johnson in one of the most pivotal Senate races in the country and aid his fundraising operation. Johnson has $3.6 million in the bank as of the latest campaign finance reports, compared to Barnes’ $1.5 million.

Sen. Ron Johnson speaks at a desk in front of a microphone.
A recent poll found Republican Sen. Ron Johnson behind most of his Democratic opponents, including Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Wisconsin is the last big question mark left for Senate Democrats in terms of setting their candidate lineup, and Barnes’ likely win means the party has its candidate roster all-but set for the general election.

“I don’t think there’s any question it helps,” said Joe Zepecki, a Wisconsin-based Democratic strategist. “Any time there’s a contested primary, you figure it’s going to take a couple days to put everybody back together. Because of how late our primary is, the faster you can get that done, the better. The other thing that I think is really important is this sends a signal to donors that they can now coalesce as well.”

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Lasry is the second Democratic candidate to step aside from the race this week. Tom Nelson, county executive of Outagamie County, suspended his bid two days ago and threw his weight behind Barnes. The only major Democrat remaining in the race, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, has been polling in the single digits.

“We’ve been saying since day one, the most important thing that we can do for Wisconsin is to get rid of Ron Johnson,” Lasry said in his first interview about the news. “I firmly believe that if there was no path to victory, the best thing to do is to make sure that we can as early as possible rally around a nominee so that we can spend every second that we have making sure that we’re working toward that goal.”

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