Alex Lasry drops Wisconsin Senate bid, boosting Mandela Barnes

Mandela Barnes
Associated Press/Morry Gash

Alex Lasry, an executive with the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team, is ending his bid for the Democratic Senate nomination in Wisconsin, becoming the second candidate this week to exit the race and endorse Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

Lasry’s exit from the race came two days after Outagamie County executive Tom Nelson suspended his Senate campaign and endorsed Barnes for the Democratic nomination to take on Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in November.

Lasry’s decision was first reported on Wednesday by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and later confirmed to The Hill by Lasry’s campaign. In a statement, Barnes thanked his now-former rival for his support, saying that he has “always been proud to call Alex a friend.”

“I am so grateful to Alex for all of the work he’s done to move Wisconsin forward, and I’m proud to have his endorsement,” Barnes said. “I deeply admire Alex’s commitment to creating good union jobs and raising wages throughout his career and throughout this campaign, and the work he’s done to bring pride and opportunity to Milwaukee, a city we both love.”

The shrinking primary field makes Barnes the heavy favorite to capture the Democratic nod next month. Wisconsin is set to hold its primaries on Aug. 9.

Barnes still faces some primary opposition, most notably from state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, though recent polling showed her trailing Barnes by double digits even before Lasry’s and Nelson’s exits. 

Originally from New York, Lasry moved to Milwaukee nearly a decade ago after his father, billionaire hedge fund executive Marc Lasry, became a co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.

The younger Lasry helped lead the city’s effort to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention. That effort was ultimately successful though the event ended up as a largely virtual gathering due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lasry poured more than $12 million of his own money into his campaign, an investment that gave him a major financial edge over his rivals and allowed him to go up on the airwaves much earlier.

That strategy helped build up his name ID early on in the race and made him a serious contender for the Democratic Senate nomination. Recent polling showed him running close behind Barnes.

Still, his background and personal wealth made him a target of many progressives, who accused him of trying to buy the party’s nomination. Barnes, meanwhile, racked up endorsements from across the party, winning the support of Democratic heavyweights like Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), as well as top progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Barnes now stands as the clear frontrunner in next month’s primary. If he clinches the nomination, he’ll go on to face Johnson in the November general election.

Johnson, who’s running for his third term in the Senate despite previously pledging to serve only two terms, is an arch-villain to many Democrats. He’s also among the most vulnerable Republican senators facing reelection this year.

While Democrats are being emboldened in their challenge to Johnson, given President Biden’s 2020 victory in Wisconsin and the two-term senator’s penchant for controversy, 2022 is shaping up to be a difficult year for Democrats nationally. Biden’s approval rating has plunged to new lows and economic anxieties have many Americans worried about the possibility of a coming recession.

Tags Alex Lasry Alex Lasry Mandela Barnes Ron Johnson Ron Johnson Tom Nelson Wisconsin Senate race
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