Wisconsin U.S. Senate election updates: Alex Lasry ad targets Ron Johnson

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Wisconsin's race for U.S. Senate will be one of the most hotly contested in the country this fall, with implications for which party will be in control of the body in 2023. Incumbent Ron Johnson, a Republican, will face the winner of the Aug. 9 Democratic primary.

This story will update with the latest developments in the race.

July 30: Alex Lasry ad targets Ron Johnson

Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry may be out of the race but his TV ad dollars are still in play.

Lasry's campaign released a new ad that accused Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of shipping jobs out of Wisconsin. The ad buy — close to $600,000 — will run in the Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay markets.

In a statement, Lasry said: “I’m calling for all Wisconsin Democrats to come together now behind Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes and make sure we have a laser focus on beating Ron Johnson and reelecting Governor Tony Evers this November — which is why I’m setting the tone by significantly investing in the future of this race and Wisconsin."

July 28: Barnes gets big cash haul in last 24 hours

With the Democratic senate field clearing, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is stepping up fundraising.

His campaign announced Barnes raised nearly $220,000 in the last 24 hours. The total comes in the wake of Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry's withdrawal Wednesday. Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson exited Monday.

Barnes raised $2.1 million in the second quarter.

“We’re seeing unprecedented momentum and excitement behind this campaign because voters across the state know Mandela is the strongest candidate to take on Ron Johnson in November,” Barnes campaign communications director Maddy McDaniel said in a statement.

— Bill Glauber

July 27: Godlewski says she intends to stay in race after Lasry drops out

After Wednesday's news that Democratic contender Alex Lasry was dropping out of the primary for U.S. Senate and throwing his support to Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski told reporters in Madison should would remain in the race through Aug. 9.

Lasry, who had been running second in the polls, threw his support to front-runner Mandela Barnes.

"I'm not changing; there's nothing new here," Godlewski said.

"To me, it's always been about beating Ron Johnson and who is the best candidate to do that," she added. "That's why I'm in the race."

Read the full story

July 26: Lena Taylor endorses Sarah Godlewski

State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.
State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

State Sen. Lena Taylor is backing state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

It's a newsy nugget since Taylor handed Mandela Barnes a loss six years ago in a state Senate primary.

“Sarah Godlewski shows up for Wisconsinites everywhere all the time, not just during an election year, which is why I’m proud to endorse her campaign for U.S. Senate," Taylor said in a statement. "Not only is she the candidate who can actually beat Ron Johnson and fix the Senate, but she also has a proven record of standing up for Wisconsin working families and prioritizing the challenges they are facing. This is exactly the no-nonsense mentality we need in Washington."

Godlewski welcomed the endorsement.

“As a champion for her community her entire life, Senator Taylor knows we can’t afford another six years of Ron Johnson, and that our campaign is the only one building a true, 72-county grassroots movement focused on commonsense solutions for all of Wisconsin," Godlewski said.

— Bill Glauber 

July 20: Psychiatrist gives $1 million to pro-Mandela Barnes group

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes says there are too many millionaires in the U.S. Senate, but the Democratic candidate apparently doesn't mind having them as supporters.

Karla Jurvetson, a Silicon Valley psychiatrist and Democratic mega-donor, last month gave a onetime contribution of $1 million to Courageous Leaders, a super PAC backing Barnes. The winner of the Democratic primary Aug. 9 will challenge Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in November.

Courageous Leaders reported that it had spent $870,691 by the end of June, much of it on TV ads in the Milwaukee and Madison media markets. Federal records show the group, based in Washington, D.C., has spent nearly $250,000 in Milwaukee.

Before the ads were placed, Barnes' campaign put a message box on its website spelling out what it would like a TV spot to say and where it should run — an increasingly popular tactic that allows campaigns to work legally with outside groups.

OpenSecrets reported recently that Jurvetson has already given more than $1.6 million, all of it to Democratic and liberal candidates and causes, since January 2021. She has contributed more than $122,000 to Wisconsin Democrats, including $20,000 to Barnes, since 2018.

Jurvetson did not respond immediately to a call.

Barnes' campaign had no comment.

Daniel Bice

July 18: Bernie Sanders endorses Mandela Barnes

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders during a recent appearance in Mount Pleasant, Wis.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders during a recent appearance in Mount Pleasant, Wis.

A day after the first big televised event of the campaign, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes just got another big endorsement, earning the backing of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“His agenda advances the interests of working families, not the billionaire class. I’m proud to endorse Mandela because he is the best positioned progressive candidate who will win both the primary and defeat Ron Johnson in November," Sanders said in a statement issued by the Barnes campaign.

Barnes has received an array of endorsements, including from U.S. Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.

“Our campaign is focused on uniting a broad base to defeat Ron Johnson this November, and I’m honored to have Senator Bernie Sanders’ endorsement,” Barnes said.

— Bill Glauber

July 13: Ron Johnson raised more than $7 million in second quarter

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.
Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson threw down a big fundraising number in the second quarter, adding more than $7 million, his campaign said.

With full financial reports not due until the end of the week, it's likely that Johnson raised more cash during the quarter than the entire Democratic field.

According to a statement from his campaign, Johnson received 53,638 online donations with an average donation of $38. Ninety-six percent of all donations were under $200.

The campaign did not say how much cash on hand it had at the end of June.

So far, among the Democrats only Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has released numbers from second quarter fundraising. The Barnes campaign said it raised more than $2.1 million during the most recent three months.

— Bill Glauber

July 12: Democratic debate lineup set

Five candidates are set to appear Sunday night in the first big televised debate of the primary season.

WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) will broadcast the hour-long event at 6 p.m. from Marquette University's Varsity Theatre.

The debate will include the top runners, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.

A fifth candidate, nonprofit executive Steven Olikara, received a place on the stage by surpassing a threshold of 5,000 donors.

July 7: Mandela Barnes raised more than $2.1 million in second quarter

Second quarter fundraising numbers are beginning to come out, with Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes' campaign announcing it raised more than $2.1 million during the period from April through June.

Overall, Barnes has raised more than $6 million since entering the race.

During the last three months, the Barnes campaign said it received an average donation of about $35, with more than 39,500 total donors and nearly 60,000 individual donations.

The Barnes campaign did not say how much cash it had on hand at the end of the quarter.

July 6: Cory Booker to headline Mandela Barnes campaign rally

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker during a 2019 campaign appearance in Milwaukee.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker during a 2019 campaign appearance in Milwaukee.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey is scheduled to be in Milwaukee to headline a campaign rally for Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, two days ahead of a major debate.

The event is planned for July 15 at 2 p.m. at the Estabrook Beer Garden, 4600 E. Estabrook Drive..

Booker endorsed Barnes in January, calling him a "game changer."

The top Democratic candidates will engage in a debate July 17 at 6 p.m. at Marquette University. The event will be broadcast by WTMJ-TV (Channel 4).

June 30: Sarah Godlewski tests positive for COVID-19

Wisconsin Treasurer Sarah Godlewski
Wisconsin Treasurer Sarah Godlewski

State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski has tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a Tweet from her official account, Godlewski took a COVID test "after experiencing mild symptoms" and "will be following CDC guidelines and self-isolating."

"The Treasurer is currently feeling fine and is grateful to be vaccinated," the Tweet said.

June 28: Andrew Yang endorses Steven Olikara

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Steven Olikara.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Steven Olikara.

Nonprofit executive Steven Olikara is looking for a push from the "Yang Gang."

Olikara nabbed the endorsement of businessman Andrew Yang, who ran in the 2020 Democratic primary for president and in the 2021 New York mayoral race.

Yang announced late last year he was changing his voting registration to "independent" and founded the Forward Party.

In a statement, Yang said, "Not only does Steven know that the current political climate is polarizing the American public and driving extremism but he is ready to change the model of politics to elevate dignity over hate, solutions over fundraising and most importantly give empowerment back to the people.

"With 21st century solutions and pragmatic policies like term limits, nonpartisan primaries and ranked choice voting Steven will bring a real voice to all Wisconsinites."

Olikara is making a late drive to get 5,000 total donors so that he can qualify for the July 17 debate on WTMJ-TV.

The four main contenders have already qualified and accepted debate invitations: Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.

June 20: Ben Voelkel joins Ron Johnson campaign as senior adviser

Around a month after ending his Republican primary bid for lieutenant governor, Ben Voelkel has joined Ron Johnson's campaign as a senior adviser.

Voekel was a Johnson campaign aide in 2016 and later served on the senator's official side as communications director from 2017 until May, 2021.

June 14: Tom Nelson releases agriculture plan

Dairy cows eat feed in the cattle barn at a dairy farm owned by Bob Roden just south of Newberg in the Town of Trenton on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel   ORG XMIT: DBY1
Dairy cows eat feed in the cattle barn at a dairy farm owned by Bob Roden just south of Newberg in the Town of Trenton on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ORG XMIT: DBY1

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson released an agriculture plan and called for "a new dairy pricing system that is based on growth management and takes into account farmers' cost of production."

Nelson said the plan "gives every dairy farm a base level of milk production depending on past production. Farmers who want to expand beyond that base would pay a market-access fee for additional milk."

"Dividends would be given to those farmers who stayed within their allowable growth and serve as an incentive to match supply with demand,"

Nelson vowed to work to enforce antitrust laws, revive strategic grain reserves, reform farm subsidies and place a moratorium on agriculture mergers.

He also called for stricter environmental regulations for certain confined animal feeding operations (CCAFOs).

— Bill Glauber

June 10: NOW PAC endorses Sarah Godlewski

Heading into the final two months of the primary race, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski received the support of the National Organization for Women Political Action Committee.

“It is clear we need strong feminist candidates in the U.S. Senate. Issues of equality, reproductive health and economic justice are vital for the continued advancement of women and girls in this country," NOW PAC President Christian F. Nunes said in a statement. "Sarah Godlewski is not only an advocate, but a fighter and has proven her ability to be a strong leader for Wisconsin and will do the same in the U.S. Senate."

Last year, Godlewski received her most prominent endorsement of the race, when she was backed by EMILY'S List, which focuses on women candidates who endorse abortion rights.

— Bill Glauber

— Bill Glauber

June 9: Alex Lasry releases 'Workers' Bill of Rights'

Milwaukee Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry hugs workers Wednesday after an announcement of a labor agreement between Fiserv Forum and the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization Union.
Milwaukee Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry hugs workers Wednesday after an announcement of a labor agreement between Fiserv Forum and the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization Union.

Reaffirming his strong support for unions, Alex Lasry released a "Workers' Bill of Rights" as he pushed for a $15 an hour federal minimum wage, guaranteed paid leave to all workers and a federal ban on so-called "right to work laws."

Earlier in the campaign, Lasry released a pro-union blueprint to raise wages.

"For far too long, our workers have been punished due to greedy companies prioritizing profits over people," Lasry said in a statement.

Lasry's 11-point plan included a call to pay a fair wage to workers in childcare, home health care and long-term care, classifying most gig workers as employees to allow them to join a union and boosting civil fines for violations of federal labor law during union campaigns.

Lasry said he would push at the federal level to outlaw "right-to-work" laws that have been implemented in 28 states, including Wisconsin, which passed the measure in 2015.

— Bill Glauber

June 8: Alexander Vindman endorses Mandela Barnes, rips Ron Johnson

Former national security aide Alexander Vindman, left, and Sen. Ron Johnson, right.
Former national security aide Alexander Vindman, left, and Sen. Ron Johnson, right.

Former National Security Council aide Alexander Vindman endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a move that was sharply rebuked by a spokesperson for Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

In a statement, Vindman, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, said:  “Mandela's campaign to defeat Ron Johnson is not only going to be one of the most competitive races in the entire country. It is also a critical opportunity to unseat an extremist Republican incumbent who spreads disinformation, undermines U.S. national security, and threatens the future of our democracy. Mandela is our best chance to defeat Ron Johnson in November.”

Vindman is an adviser with the left-leaning veterans group VoteVets.

Johnson spokeswoman Alexa Henning responded: "Vindman not only harmed America by improperly disclosing details of a presidential phone call with another head of state, he also did great harm to Ukraine. He's the last person a candidate for U.S. Senate should want to be endorsed by."

Vindman was a key witness in the first U.S. House impeachment of Trump. He listened in on the 2019 call when Trump asked Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Joe Biden while withholding U.S. military aid to the country. Trump later released about $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.

In a March interview with the Journal Sentinel, Vindman accused Johnson and others of having "blood on their hands" as Ukraine came under assault by Russia. Vindman also accused Johnson and others of ending his military career.

Vindman was responding to an earlier Johnson interview with Fox News. The Oshkosh Republican blamed Vindman and others for helping embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin.

— Bill Glauber

June 6: Mandela Barnes lands AFSCME Council 32 endorsement

Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes.
Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes.

With a little more than two months to go before the Aug. 9 primary, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes was endorsed by Madison-based AFSCME Council 32, a union of public and private employees.

In a statement, Barnes said he has worked with AFSCME as an organizer and state legislator and added : “We stood together to kick Scott Walker out of office in 2018, and we’re going to do it again with Ron Johnson."

Paul Spink, president of AFSCME Council 32, said Barnes is a former AFSCME member who "has fought side-by-side with workers for his entire life. He has always had our backs. It’s time for us to have his."

June 1: Sarah Godlewski on gun violence: 'We can't get numb to this.'

WHITEFISH BAY - State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski said she believed "common sense gun laws will move the needle to prevent some of the gun violence that we're seeing."

Godlewski voiced support for universal background checks for gun purchases and "red flag" laws after listening to several mothers tell their stories of losing children to gun violence.

"We can’t get numb to this," Godlewski said. "We have to persist because there is no other option. Once we become complacent they’ve won. That’s not the future we want for our kids."

Among those who spoke with Godlewski was Tanja Dixon, whose son Anthony Daniels, was shot and killed Sept. 7, 2017.

"You can have a million teenagers marching," Dixon said of efforts to press for gun safety. "You can have a million senior citizens marching. Until you get the parents out here it’s a lost cause."

June 1: Complaint filed against Ron Johnson over flights from Florida

JFT Investments LLC, an affiliate of the Johnson family trust, purchased this 3,400-square-foot waterfront house near Sanibel Island in Florida.  Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin billed taxpayers for flights from Florida to Washington, D.C.
JFT Investments LLC, an affiliate of the Johnson family trust, purchased this 3,400-square-foot waterfront house near Sanibel Island in Florida. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin billed taxpayers for flights from Florida to Washington, D.C.

A Madison-based Democratic activist has filed a complaint over Republican Sen. Ron Johnson's use of taxpayer dollars to cover the cost of flights between a Florida family vacation home and Washington, D.C., including nine flights last year.

Claudia Pogreba, working with the state Democratic Party, filed a three-page complaint with Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Chris Coons (D-Delaware), and Vice-Chairman James Lankford (R-Oklahoma).

"Senators may only use government funds to pay for travel that has an official business component," wrote Pogreba, who has donated thousands of dollars to state and federal candidates over the years. "Yet Sen. Johnson has flouted this rule by repeatedly using official funds to subsidize personal travel."

Johnson officials, however, have said these are legitimate expenses that were all approved by auditors and the Senate Rules Committee. They noted that his spending on travel is comparable to that of Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

"He has never been reimbursed for travel to visit family in Florida but is reimbursed, as is permitted under Senate rules, for returning for official business to Washington, D.C.," said Johnson spokeswoman Alexa Henning. "The senator is confident that this frivolous complaint will be dismissed because he has done absolutely nothing wrong, and, in fact, has been a faithful steward of taxpayer dollars."

Overall, federal records show, the multimillionaire Wisconsin senator has been reimbursed for 19 flights from Fort Myers, Florida, to Washington between 2013 and May 2021. The trips cost taxpayers somewhere between $5,418 and $18,781.

Johnson's family bought a 3,400-square-foot waterfront house in Fort Myers, near Sanibel Island, for $1.6 million in October 2013.

Daniel Bice

June 1: Ron Johnson campaign collects 30,000 signatures

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson speaks with Hispanic voters during a roundtable discussion Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, at RNC Community Center located at 1310 W. Lincoln Ave., Milwaukee. Ebony Cox / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson speaks with Hispanic voters during a roundtable discussion Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, at RNC Community Center located at 1310 W. Lincoln Ave., Milwaukee. Ebony Cox / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson's campaign announced it collected more than 30,000 nomination signatures to get the Oshkosh Republican on the ballot in his race for a third term.

With only 2,000 valid signatures needed, the 30,000 figure represents a show of organizing firepower and grassroots support.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin followed a similar model in 2018 when her campaign got over 13,000 nomination signatures.

In a statement, Johnson said: “This amount of nomination signatures proves how energized and motivated Wisconsin Republicans are to win in November," as he thanked those "who worked tirelessly to collect and return a record-breaking number of signatures from all 72 counties in Wisconsin."

Bill Glauber

May 17: Sheldon Lubar endorses Steven Olikara

Milwaukee philanthropist Sheldon Lubar, left, and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Steven Olikara.
Milwaukee philanthropist Sheldon Lubar, left, and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Steven Olikara.

Milwaukee philanthropist Sheldon Lubar, who was a Young Republican in college and worked in the Nixon and Ford administrations, has thrown his support to a young Democrat, nonprofit executive Steven Olikara.

"Here is a guy who really understands the problems," facing the country, Lubar said in an interview announcing his Olikara endorsement. "He is a sincere, honest guy."

Olikara was founder and chief executive of Millennial Action Project, which encourages  bipartisan political cooperation among young political leaders.

Lubar said he "didn't come easily" to making the decision to publicly endorse Olikara. Lubar's wife, Marianne, has been one of Olikara's staunch supporters.

"I thought what do we need? We need a person of integrity and decency who is not just a Republican or a Democrat but who is an American," Lubar said..

Even though he doesn't show up in the polls, Olikara has gotten some prominent endorsements from the likes of former Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton and retired Appeals Court Judge Paul Higginbotham.

Bill Glauber

May 16: Elizabeth Warren to campaign for Barnes in Madison, Milwaukee

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, right, and Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, right.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, right, and Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, right.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) will headline fundraising events for Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes this week in Madison and Milwaukee.

Warren is expected to tout Barnes as the strongest candidate to take on Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in the fall and the one best positioned to defend abortion rights. She'll be appearing with Barnes Friday night in Madison and Saturday in Milwaukee.

EMILY's LIst, the group that focuses on women candidates who support abortion rights, has endorsed state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski.

Bill Glauber

May 16: Sarah Godlewski releases  plan to address mental health crisis

Sarah Godlewski, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate
Sarah Godlewski, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate

Vowing to "expand access to everyone everywhere," State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski released a plan to address the country's mental health crisis.

"Our system needs a major overhaul, so I’m putting mental health solutions front and center in my campaign and will do the same in the U.S. Senate," Godlewski said in a statement.

Key proposals in the plan include streamlining licensing procedures for mental health professionals, fully funding and implementing the new 988 suicide prevention lifeline and supporting the Kids Online Safety Act of 2022, a children's online safety bill.

Godlewski's plan urged that opioid manufacturers be held accountable "for the damage they've caused to families across Wisconsin and the United States."

The plan backed "developing mental health screening programs in public schools" and an increase in "federal funding for hiring school counselors, nurses and psychologists."

There were also proposals to provide increased support for new mothers, college students, veterans, farmers, seniors and those recovering from addiction.

Bill Glauber

May 15: Tom Nelson defends vote on GOP-backed abortion bill in 2007

Tom Nelson, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate
Tom Nelson, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson — a Democrat running for U.S. Senate — likes to tout his 100% voting record in favor of abortion rights.

But some are raising questions about Nelson's decision in 2007 to join Republicans in voting for a bill that would have required doctors to make certain that patients were not being coerced into aborting a pregnancy.

The bill failed in the state Senate.

The measure had the support of Wisconsin Right to Life Inc. and Pro-Life Wisconsin, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin took no position, except to say the bill was unnecessary. A lobbyist for NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin labeled the legislation a "cynical attempt to score points" with abortion opponents.

Irene Lin, campaign manager for Nelson, dismissed the criticism.

"Is this the best our opponents can come up with?" Lin said. "The bill was not anti-choice, and neither Planned Parenthood nor NARAL lobbied against it."

Lin said Nelson maintained a 100% voting record with both groups over his six years in the Legislature while living in a Republican district.

"Tom was fighting these tough battles against the anti-choice Republicans when some of our opponents weren't even living in Wisconsin," Lin said. "So it takes some nerve to question his record when prochoice advocates knew they had no better friend in Madison."

— Daniel Bice

May 12: Tammy Baldwin says voters should send Ron Johnson 'packing'

Sen,. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
Sen,. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin lit into her Republican colleague, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, on the issue of abortion.

"I would also say to voters, if our current senator Johnson wants to send women to Illinois, we ought to send him packing this November," Baldwin told MSNBC.

Baldwin was responding to Johnson's comments to the Wall Street Journal.on Wednesday. With the Roe v. Wade decision hanging in the balance, Johnson told the outlet that expected abortion would be a non-issue in the campaign.

“It might be a little messy for some people, but abortion is not going away,” Johnson said, suggesting people in Wisconsin would still have options, such as driving across state lines to Illinois. “I just don’t think this is going to be the big political issue everybody thinks it is, because it’s not going to be that big a change.”   

Bill Glauber

May 10: Democrats renew ad push against Ron Johnson

A Democratic group is launching television ads that accuse U.S. Sen Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, of siding with the Chinese government at the expense of Wisconsinites.
A Democratic group is launching television ads that accuse U.S. Sen Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, of siding with the Chinese government at the expense of Wisconsinites.

The rush of Democratic ads against Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson continues this week with a $2.7 million TV and digital ad buy from Majority Forward.

The spot — titled "Phony" — claims Johnson has sided with the Chinese government at the expense of Wisconsinites. It comes as the state and nation are dealing with inflation.

“In Wisconsin, everything’s gotten so expensive," the ad states. "Because America’s too dependent on China.”

The ad barrage against Johnson, underway for more than a year, is likely to accelerate.

Senate Majority PAC, the group aligned with Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, has reserved more than $12 million in TV airtime from August through election day in November.

Republicans aren't holding back, either.

A GOP super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has reserved $12 million in airtime in the state.

Bill Glauber

May 7: Tom Nelson calls on Bucks owners to repay public cash

Thousands of fans gather outside Fiserv Forum to watch on a video screen as the Milwaukee Bucks play at Phoenix in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, in Milwaukee.
Thousands of fans gather outside Fiserv Forum to watch on a video screen as the Milwaukee Bucks play at Phoenix in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, in Milwaukee.

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson is calling on the owners of the Milwaukee Bucks to repay hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds used to build Fiserv Forum.

Of course, one of the Bucks owners is Marc Lasry, whose son Alex is among those vying in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

"They can afford to give it back," Nelson said as the franchise has escalated in value. "How much is too much?"

Nelson is trying to turn the issue into something of a political bank shot, noting that another rival, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, voted for the arena financing package while a member of the state Assembly.

The bill was signed into law by then-Gov. Scott Walker.

Nelson claimed under Walker's leadership, "with an assist by Mandela Barnes," the team's owners "bilked a quarter of a billion dollars from Wisconsin taxpayers."

Under terms of the deal for the $500 million arena, the Bucks owners put in $150 million, former owner Herb Kohl added $100 million, with $250 million coming from the state, the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.

Nelson said that "Alex Lasry takes credit for everything. He probably takes credit for the Bucks winning the NBA championship. His campaign is fueled on millions from his family's fortune."

Andre Walton, executive director of Our Wisconsin Revolution, a group that has endorsed Nelson, said improvements are needed throughout Milwaukee, not just the central business district.

"You have to prioritize the needs of the people over subsidizing billionaires," Walton said.

In a statement put out by Lasry's campaign, Dan Bukiewicz, President of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council, said: “I’m not sure how a candidate for U.S. Senate can claim to be “pro-worker” while being against the creation of thousands of good paying union jobs that built and support  the Fiserv Forum.

"Tom Nelson’s insinuation that the public funding for Fiserv Forum was a waste of taxpayer dollars is troubling. The investment in Fiserv has redefined downtown and created millions of dollars in surrounding development. It’s an insult to all of the working men and women that built our championship arena.”

The Barnes campaign had no immediate comment. 

Bill Glauber

May 3: Ron Johnson weighs in on leaked draft of Supreme Court decision

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said late Tuesday that if the leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade becomes the "final decision," he would "agree with that outcome."

In a lengthy statement, Johnson said: "My personal belief is that life begins at conception." He also noted his past support for a 20-week abortion ban under the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

Johnson said: "I agree with the reported draft from Justice Alito that 'abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views.' As a result, neither my personal belief, nor the opinion of nine un-elected justices, or pressure from the radical left to intimidate sitting Supreme Court justices, should be the basis on which this profound moral issue should be decided for all of society."

"I’ve always felt the determination of when society should protect life should be made through the democratic process in each state," he said. "Should this draft become the final decision, that is exactly how this profound moral issue will be decided, and I would agree with that outcome." 

More: Leak of draft Supreme Court opinion on Roe v. Wade transforms Wisconsin's political races ahead of 2022 elections

— Bill Glauber

May 2: Mandela Barnes invites supporters to appear in his first TV ad

The political world has been waiting for the campaign of Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes to release its first TV ad.

Apparently, it will be coming soon.

Turns out the campaign is filming a spot in Madison, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

And supporters were urged to sign up to appear in the ad, according to a post on the campaign's website.

Two of Barnes' rivals have already gone up with spots. Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry first went on air in October, while state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski ran her first spots in March. 

Bill Glauber

April 28: Tom Nelson claims endorsement from Bernie Sanders-linked Our Wisconsin Revolution

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson gained an endorsement Thursday from a key liberal group, the Bernie Sanders-inspired Our Wisconsin Revolution.

Nelson was a 2020 Democratic Party delegate for Sanders, the Vermont independent U.S. Senator who mounted a run for president.

Nelson also backs Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, two key pillars for many on the left within the Democratic Party.

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Our Wisconsin Revolution executive director Andre Walton said: "Tom fights tirelessly for working people and puts people before corporate profits. We know that just beating Ron Johnson is not enough, we need someone willing to challenge the billionaire class and corporate power. Tom can win back this Senate seat because he’s true to a progressive vision, not in spite of this, as some other candidates might believe." 

Bill Glauber

April 28: Ron Johnson details his stance on health care in 2022 election

In a statement to the Journal Sentinel, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a staunch foe of Obamacare, detailed his approach to the health care issue in the 2022 election.

The statement comes after years of staunch opposition from the Wisconsin Republican to Obamacare and his efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats attacked Johnson last month after he indicated during an interview that if Republicans regain control of Congress this year — and the presidency in 2024 — they could again try to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The senator later clarified his remarks, saying he was using Obamacare as an example of how to prepare for delivering on agenda items, adding "I was not suggesting repealing and replacing Obamacare should be one of those priorities."

In a subsequent statement to the Journal Sentinel, Johnson detailed his approach to the health care issue, favoring a "free-market system" with protections for those with preexisting medical conditions.

Read the full story.

April 27: Marquette Poll shows tight Dem U.S. Senate race between Barnes, Lasry

The Democratic race for U.S. Senate has tightened, according to Wednesday's Marquette University Law School Poll.

But many voters haven't made their pick for the primary that will be held Aug. 9, with the winner taking on Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in the fall.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes was the choice of 19% while Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry was at 16%, with state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski at 7% and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson at 5%.

"And 48% still don't know who they'll vote for. That's unchanged," said poll director Charles Franklin.

Read the full story.

April 21: Steven Olikara unveils 'agenda to make government work'

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Steven Olikara is banking on his ideas to get traction in a crowded primary field.

A long shot in the polls,

He wants legislators to work on policy, not on raising cash. He'd ban members of Congress from fundraising while Congress is in session and clamp down on corporate PAC money. He'd also cap at $250,000 the amount of money individuals put into their own campaigns.

And he'd tighten up the Congressional calendar, with members working three weeks in D.C. and one week at home.

On elections, he's for open primaries, Republicans and Democrats thrown into the same mix. The top five finishers would move on to the general election, with voters ranking the candidates, what's known as ranked-choice voting.

He said those ideas and others can catch on with voters, like getting rid of gerrymandering, helping "non-traditional" candidates run for office and reforming the filibuster.

Read the full story.

April 21: Ron Johnson touts work on right-to-try legislation, Trump tax bill

As he runs for reelection for a third term, Republican U.S. Sen. Ron 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.

Johnson detailed the list April 22 in an email to supporters and a post on his website wisfacts.com as he braces to take on a Democratic rival in the fall.

Read the full story.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin U.S. Senate election race updates on candidates, Ron Johnson