What you need know about the 2022 Wisconsin U.S. Senate race

·5 min read

It just might be the biggest prize of the 2022 election cycle, the race that could shape political control in Washington, D.C.

We're talking the fight for a U.S. Senate seat in Wisconsin.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is running for a third term.

Four main candidates are battling for the Democratic nomination — Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.

With a split between Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate, Wisconsin is shaping up as a pivot point.

There are 34 Senate seats being contested this year — 14 held by Democrats and 20 by Republicans.

Johnson is the only Republican Senate incumbent seeking re-election in a state that ex-President Donald Trump lost in 2020, said Jessica Taylor of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.

"It is such an evenly divided state, perhaps the most evenly divided state in the country," Taylor said. "It's a state where there's a really stark partisan divide. People have on either their red jerseys or their blue jerseys."

If you haven't been following the race, don't worry, we've got you covered.

The latest: Wisconsin U.S. Senate election updates

More: Here are the 8 Democrats in Wisconsin's 2022 U.S. Senate race who are seeking to unseat Ron Johnson

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The Democrats seeking to unseat Ron Johnson

Top-tier Democrats in the field for the 2022 U.S. Senate race include, from left, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
Top-tier Democrats in the field for the 2022 U.S. Senate race include, from left, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

Barnes and Lasry appear to be running neck and neck, with Godlewski and Nelson further behind.

Mandela Barnes

Among Democrats, Barnes, who entered the race last summer, remains the best known, both statewide and nationally. He and Gov. Tony Evers made an effective campaign team in 2018 when Democrats ousted Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

In 2020, Barnes raised his visibility as a key campaign surrogate for President Joe Biden in Wisconsin while joining the national conversation in the country's reckoning on race.

He has some blemishes. Over the last few years he received criticism for overdue property taxes, unpaid parking tickets and an increase in security costs as lieutenant governor.

Since entering the race with an announcement video, he has vowed to "provide opportunity to fight for hard-working people" across the state and country. Among top endorsements, Barnes was backed by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey and U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.

Sarah Godlewski

Godlewski put herself on the political map in 2018 when she helped spearhead opposition to a constitutional amendment to scrap the state treasurer office, and then went out and won the job.

She was dinged early in the campaign over being unable to verify a claim of saving the Pentagon $20 million while working as a defense contractor. She also acknowledged she did not vote in 2016 despite working for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in Wisconsin.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade galvanized Godlewski, who quickly cut a commercial while walking in front of the courthouse.

Alex Lasry

Lasry, who worked as a White House aide during the Obama administration, helped lead Milwaukee's bid to win the 2020 Democratic National Convention. He has been running hard on his Bucks ties, focusing on his role in the team's social justice efforts as well as labor agreements forged with the building of Fiserv Forum.

To win, the Milwaukee resident will likely have to convince Wisconsinites that he's one of them. He is a New York native and son of billionaire hedge fund manager Marc Lasry, one of the Bucks' owners. His biggest political miscue so far: getting a COVID-19 shot in January 2021, when vaccines were in short supply.

Tom Nelson

Nelson has been running the longest, entering in October 2020. He is trying to carve out a role as the most "progressive" candidate in the field, supporting Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal. He even completed  a 72-counties-in-72-days tour of Wisconsin, what he called "The Full Nelson."

Ron Johnson going for a third-term as U.S. senator

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson speaking Friday, May 6, during an appearance at the Republican National Committee's Hispanic Community Center in Milwaukee.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson speaking Friday, May 6, during an appearance at the Republican National Committee's Hispanic Community Center in Milwaukee.

Near the end of his 2016 campaign against Democrat Russ Feingold, Johnson pledged he would only serve two terms.

But circumstances changed. The Republicans lost Congress and the White House in 2020, and Johnson broke his pledge and entered the fray in January.

Johnson has certainly remained in the news. He has questioned whether the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol was an armed insurrection, questioned the need for vaccines or masks during the pandemic, and embraced a role as media foe.

"He has not been someone who has been acting like he represents a purple state," said Taylor, of the Cook Political Report. "Certainly, Johnson has always marched to the beat of his own drummer."

In running for re-election, Johnson is touting what he's calling his accomplishments that include passing a "right to try" law, ensuring President Donald Trump's tax bill benefited small businesses and digging into Hunter Biden's financial arrangements.

The key dates for the U.S. Senate election in Wisconsin

Democrats face off in an Aug. 9 primary.

The general election is Nov. 8.

What's ahead for the general election winner

A six-year term in the U.S. Senate representing Wisconsin alongside Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin. She's up for re-election in 2024.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 2022 Wisconsin U.S. Senate race pits Ron Johnson with 8 Democrats