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Republican Sen. Ron Johnson faces Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in the Wisconsin Senate race

John L. Dorman   

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson faces Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in the Wisconsin Senate race
  • Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson is running for reelection against Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
  • Johnson has maintained a conservative voting record during his two terms in the Senate.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who was first elected during the conservative Tea Party wave in 2010, is running for a third term and will face Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

Wisconsin Senate candidates

Johnson, a former plastics executive and political ally of former President Donald Trump, has long tacked to the right in his voting record while representing Wisconsin — a swing state that nonetheless retains a robust conservative base.

In the Senate, Johnson serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, the Budget Committee, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the Commerce Committee.

Johnson was one of Trump's most ardent legislative supporters of the 2017 tax reform bill, which overhauled the tax code and repealed the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.

Barnes, who in 2018 was elected as lieutenant governor on a ticket with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, has sought to portray Johnson as a champion of monied interests and has pledged to work with lawmakers to enact policies that would benefit working-class families, including an expansion of the child tax credit.

A win by Johnson would reaffirm the Wisconsin GOP's strength in its suburban and exurban heartlands, while a Barnes victory put Democrats in the position to potentially have a net gain in Senate seats — and retain a majority — if they can also secure wins for vulnerable incumbents and win tight open-seat races in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Voting history in Wisconsin

Democrat Russ Feingold held the seat now occupied by Johnson from 1993 until he was defeated by the Republican in 2010.

Feingold ran for his old seat in a 2016 rematch. But despite the ex-senator leading in most public polling that year, he went on to narrowly lose to Johnson once again.

On the presidential level, Wisconsin has voted for the Democratic nominee in every election from 1988 to 2020 except for 2016, when Trump narrowly defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Badger State.

In 2020, now-President Joe Biden won Wisconsin — by roughly 20,000 votes out of nearly 3.3 million ballots cast.

The money race

According to OpenSecrets, Johnson has raised $29 million, spent $24.4 million, and has $4.5 million in cash on hand, as of September 30. Barnes has raised nearly $26.1 million, spent $22.7 million, and has $3.5 million in the bank, as of September 30.

Through mid-October, super PACs, politically active nonprofit organizations, and other non-candidate groups have meanwhile combined to spend an additional $95 million advocating for or against the candidates.

What experts say

The race between Johnson and Barnes is rated as "tilt Republican" by Inside Elections, a "toss-up" by The Cook Political Report, and "leans Republican" by Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

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