Wisconsin’s progressive Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes handily won the state’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary on Tuesday, advancing to take on Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in a November matchup that could play a key role in determining which party controls the upper chamber next year.
“This is the honor of a lifetime,” Barnes said following his landslide victory, which was expected after his top Democratic rivals dropped out last month.
“Now, we take the fight to Ron Johnson,” Barnes declared on social media. “We’re going to the Senate to rebuild the middle class. We’re going to protect the right to choose. We’re going to fight to make the American Dream an American reality. Are you with me?”
Barnes, a supporter of Medicare for All, won the backing of high-profile lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who celebrated the lieutenant governor’s victory as a win for efforts to reshape a chamber that has long stood as an obstacle to progressive change.
“We need strong progressives like Mandela in the Senate to fight for an agenda that looks out for the working class of this country, not billionaires and corporations,” Sanders tweeted. “On to November!”
Wisconsin, I will never stop fighting for you. Now, let’s send Ron Johnson packing. pic.twitter.com/qBHd40u93g
— Mandela Barnes (@TheOtherMandela) August 10, 2022
A survey conducted ahead of Tuesday’s primary showed Barnes leading by two percentage points in a hypothetical general election matchup against Johnson, a Trump loyalist who recently said he would favor turning Social Security and Medicare into “discretionary spending” programs, further opening the door to cuts.
“Wisconsinites pay into Social Security through a lifetime of hard work, and they’re counting on this program and Medicare — but Ron Johnson just doesn’t care,” Barnes said in response to Johnson’s remarks last week.
In a statement late Tuesday, Barnes declared that Johnson “has spent his decade in Washington serving the special interests who donate millions to his campaign while he calls to repeal the Affordable Care Act and slash Social Security funding.”
“Plain and simple: if it doesn’t support his wealthy donors or his own self-interests, you can’t count on Ron Johnson to support it,” Barnes added. “Wisconsin deserves to be represented by leaders who have a firsthand understanding of the challenges they’re facing and their hopes for the future.”
Along with Pennsylvania, where Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is taking on ultra-rich ex-TV personality Dr. Oz, Wisconsin is one of several states where Democrats are looking to flip Senate seats in their bid to maintain control of the chamber and expand their razor-thin margins.
Analysts consider the Wisconsin race a toss-up, and progressives voiced confidence Tuesday that Barnes will succeed in denying the Republican incumbent a third term.
“Even before he got in the race, we knew Mandela was the candidate who could build a winning coalition to take on Ron Johnson,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party. “All his life, Mandela has been bringing people together across race and place. Tonight is the starting gun for what may be the make-or-break election of the year.”
“If Mandela succeeds, we can change how the Senate works — and who it works for,” Mitchell added. “We’ve been with Mandela from day one, and we’ll be with him through November.”
Brooke Adams, director of movement politics at People’s Action, said that “this November, we’re going to take this Senate seat back for the people.”
“Barnes is in the best position possible heading into the general election,” Adams argued. “Political analysts have noted that the key to a Democratic win in Wisconsin is to drive turnout in urban areas and build new power in rural areas. Having earned the endorsement of Citizen Action of Wisconsin and People’s Action — who have focused on building power in communities of every size in the state — sets him up with exactly the kind of support he’ll need to win.”
This story has been updated with a statement from People’s Action.
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