There's nothing subtle about U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson's political playbook.
A day after announcing his run for a third term, the Oshkosh Republican launched two statewide TV campaign ads Monday that took aim at Democratic policies, with one spot showing scenes of a gruesome American landscape of a flag burning, porous borders and rioting.
In the ads, Johnson explicitly addresses his broken pledge to serve only two terms.
The tenor of the ads was reminiscent in some respects of former President Donald Trump's 2017 inaugural address when he painted a dark and apocalyptic picture of the state of the nation epitomized by the phrase, "American carnage."
The ads were accompanied by a media rollout for Johnson on conservative talk radio as he sought to shore up his conservative base and reach donors — both nationally and locally —for what will be an expensive race for re-election.
During an interview with Fox News Radio's Brian Kilmeade, Johnson presented himself as a candidate under siege by the Democratic Party, "their allies in the media" and big tech.
"They've been viciously attacking me, falsely attacking me," Johnson said, "... running millions of dollars of ads. The politics of personal destruction."
Johnson added: "I'll be talking about how disastrous their (Democratic) policies are, and trying to restore confidence in our institutions and in the minds of the American public. We do need to unify and heal this nation. That's what I hope I can turn this campaign into."
After publicly weighing a run for more than a year, Johnson is seeking to quickly build out his campaign.
Dylan Lefler has been brought in as campaign manager. During the 2020 cycle, Lefler served as campaign manager for Arizona Republican Martha McSally, in her unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate. Most recently, he was convention director for Virginia Republican Glenn Youngkin, who was elected governor.
Virginia-based FP1 Strategies will serve as the campaign's general consultant.
Johnson's campaign did not announce how much money it was putting behind the first ads but said the 30-second spots are due to air for several weeks.
Tens of millions of dollars are expected to be spent in one of the country's pivotal contests, with control of the U.S. Senate at stake.
Democrats will be spending on two tracks ahead of the Aug. 9 primary, with candidates trying to get their messages out while the party and its allies aim to define Johnson with voters.
Johnson's first ad salvos were his attempt to shape the contours of the race.
In an ad titled "Stand and Fight," the 66-year-old Oshkosh Republican said, "Democrat policies have been disastrous for America," and as news footage played he spoke of "the 2020 summer riots, defunding the police, lowering bail and not prosecuting criminals."
And he talked of "Kenosha set on fire, a growing number of murders in Milwaukee and the Waukesha Christmas Parade turned into a terrible tragedy," the latter a reference to a low $1,000 bail recommended in an earlier case involving Waukesha parade suspect Darrell Brooks. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, said the bail recommendation was made in error by a prosecutor under his supervision.
In a reference to his decision to break a campaign pledge to serve only two terms, Johnson explained: "It feels like our country is being torn apart. That's not how it felt when I ran in 2016. Back then, I intended to serve a second term and go home. But now with Democrats in total control, our nation is on a very dangerous path.
"If you're in a position to help make our country safer and stronger would you just walk away? I've decided I can't. I'll stand and fight for freedom."
State Democrats had a message of their own for Johnson: putting up billboards in Milwaukee, Beloit, Eau Claire, Kenosha and Oshkosh, attacking the senator on taxes.
"Ron Johnson’s top priority has been enriching himself and his biggest donors at the expense of Wisconsinites,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler said. “We’re reminding Wisconsinites that Johnson, who has repeatedly tried to raise costs for hardworking Wisconsinites, doesn’t think the ultra-wealthy like him need to pay their fair share of taxes.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also went up with a digital and cable ad buy, contending Johnson "has been looking out for himself."
Among other assertions, the ad references his work on a key provision of the 2017 tax cut.
Pro Publica reported that Johnson's provision — a tax break for small businesses and other pass-through entities — benefited wealthy Americans, including two of the biggest forces in Republican politics in Wisconsin and nationally. Johnson has denied the accusation that he was doing the bidding for his donors.
Campaigns for Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Alex Lasry and Sarah Godlewski also went up with digital spots against Johnson.
Lasry's ad used news footage and charged Johnson with being "an Insurrection-Denier, a COVID-Denier, and a Climate Change-Denier," while in her ad Godlewski said Johnson is now running "and we must stop him."
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson issued a challenge to Johnson and his fellow Democrats in the Senate race to back a proposal to ban members of Congress and their families from buying and selling individual stocks.
The issue has flared after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, defended the right of lawmakers and their spouses to trade stocks.
"Look, when you go to Congress, just do your job," Nelson said in a video statement. "You don't need to be day trading like Gordon Gekko. Just get mutual funds and CD's like the rest of us."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson launches two TV ads a day after entering race