Johnson, most vulnerable Senate Republican, wins reelection in Wisconsin

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)
Greg Nash
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) arrives to the Capitol for a series of nomination votes on Thursday, September 8, 2022.

Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), who was the Democrats’ biggest Republican target in the Senate, was projected to defeat Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) and win reelection to a third term. 

NBC News and CNN both called the race for Johnson.

Johnson and allied outside groups spent the last several months of the race defining Barnes as soft on crime in a barrage of attack ads, which some Democratic critics say were intended to sow racial divisions and play on the fears of suburban voters.  

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) addresses reporters during a press conference on Wednesday, February 9, 2022 to discuss rising crime issues around the country.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has been reelected to a third term, surviving a major Democratic push to oust him from the Senate. (Greg Nash)

Johnson and Republican allied groups repeatedly hit Barnes for supporting the end of cash bail, which they linked to the 2021 Waukesha Christmas parade attack in which a 39-year-old man who had been released from custody on $1,000 bail after being accused of domestic violence crashed his SUV through a crowd, killing six people and injuring dozens more.  

The race culminated in a fiery debate in Madison last month where Barnes accused Johnson of caring more about taking care of wealthy donors than helping working-class Wisconsinites and Johnson jabbed back by pointing to the more than $600,000 in taxpayer money spent on Barnes’s security detail.  

The debate reflected the nasty tone of the campaign.  

Republicans tried to link Barnes to former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin (D), a reform-minded prosecutor who was ousted from office by a voter backlash, at one point circulating a photo of Boudin at a Barnes fundraiser.

In a tense October debate, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) accused Johnson of caring more about his wealthy donors than helping hard-working Wisconsinites. (Associated Press)

The Wesleyan Media Project found that 90 percent of the ads aimed at helping Johnson were focused on attacking Barnes, who called it “an unprecedented amount of negative spin against me.”   

The blizzard of negative ads helped drive down Barnes’s favorable rating to 40 percent and his unfavorable rating to 44 percent, according to a Marquette Law School poll conducted from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1.  

Barnes had nearly a 5-point average lead in the polls until Sept. 13 and then Johnson began to swiftly close the gap, passing his rival in the polls on Sept. 20 and then building a comfortable lead.  

Johnson was viewed as the Democrats’ best chance of defeating a Senate Republican incumbent this cycle after President Biden won the state in 2020 by 20,000 votes, or less than a percentage point.  

Although Barnes led Johnson in polls throughout the summer, the Republican Senator closed the gap heading into the fall. (Getty)

He won his first Senate election in 2010 as an outsider candidate who rode to victory on the Tea Party-fueled wave that helped Republicans capture the House that year. He defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in what was a major upset at the time.  

Johnson beat Feingold again in a 2016 rematch, when the GOP incumbent was again considered an underdog. He was left for dead in the final weeks of the campaign when the National Republican Senatorial Committee canceled plans to spend $800,000, projecting that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton would carry the state that year.

Johnson is the senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and would take a lead role in investigating the Biden administration, especially political influence in the FBI and Department of Justice, as well as the president’s son Hunter Biden.  

Alex Henning, Johnson’s spokeswoman, told The Hill: “The senators’ priorities with a GOP majority and his role as Chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations would be uncovering and exposing the truth regarding our miserably failed response to COVID-19, corruption and politicization of federal law enforcement and our intelligence agencies and continuing our ongoing investigation into the corruption of Hunter Biden and the Biden family.” 

Tags 2022 midterms Senate Chesa Boudin Ron Johnson Ron Johnson Wisconsin Senate race

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