Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes joins US Senate race

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 8:11 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2021 at 5:41 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has his sights set on Washington, joining an already crowded field of potential Democratic candidates looking to turn both Senate seats blue this fall.

On Tuesday, Barnes officially threw his hat into the ring for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. In his announcement, the 34-year-old highlighted his Milwaukee roots – going so far as to hold his campaign announcement at a Milwaukee pizza parlor – and being raised in one of the most impoverished area of the country.

“Growing up, my father worked on an assembly line for 30 years, my mother taught in Milwaukee public schools. They were able to provide me with a foundation for opportunity,” he said. “I believe we need to build a better America where the opportunity I found isn’t so rare.”

Johnson, who once committed to stepping down after two terms, has not said if he would seek a third one. However, Democrats appear to expect him to run, with both Barnes and his soon-to-be former boss, Gov. Tony Evers, drawing the race as a contest to un-seat him.

“Hard-working Wisconsin families deserve every opportunity, but politicians like Senator Ron Johnson aren’t delivering,” Barnes said. “Whether that’s as an organizer in Milwaukee, a state legislator, or as lieutenant governor, I’ve taken on inequality and I’m going continue that fight when I reach the U.S. Senate.”

In a statement released shortly after Barnes announcement, Evers, too, took aim at Johnson, accusing him of embracing “reckless conspiracies that risked public health and jeopardized our state’s economic recovery.”

Evers statement stopped short of endorsement, though. The governor described his former right-hand man as “a good friend” and “a great partner working to address challenges facing our state,” adding that he was committed to supporting any decision Barnes made on how to serve the people of Wisconsin.

The statement did leave room for support of the other seven candidates in the field, with Evers concluding by saying, “we’re lucky to have strong Democratic candidates who are running to send (Johnson) packing, and I look forward to supporting Wisconsin Democrats’ choice to take on Ron Johnson in 2022.”

Among the other Democratic candidates Barnes will face are Alex Lasry, who is on leave as an executive with the Milwaukee Bucks and State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski. Also in the race are Wausau radiologist Gillian Battino, State Sen. Chris Larson, Outagamie Co. Executive Tome Nelson, former Wisconsin State Senate candidate Adam Murphy, and Milwaukee attorney Peter Peckarsky.

Later Tuesday, Wisconsin Republican Party Communications Director Anna Kelly pointed to criticism aimed at Barnes for saying that he had a college degree even though he had not yet fulfilled all the requirements to receive one. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Monday that the Barnes campaign provided a copy of his year-old diploma.

She also cited controversies surrounding taxes and parking tickets, to accuse Barnes of having “neither the maturity nor the temperament to represent Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.