Ron Johnson announces run for third Senate term in Wisconsin

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced Sunday he will run for reelection in November, setting up a high-stakes Senate battle in a key swing state. 

Johnson’s decision to run for a third term breaks a vow he made in his 2016 campaign that he’d seek only two six-year stints in the Senate. However, he had increasingly sent signals that he planned to run again in November, maintaining his fundraising and making frequent appearances on Fox News.

In a statement and an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Johnson said he would prefer to retire but cast his decision to run for reelection as one made to fight against Democrats’ unified control in Washington and “disastrous policies.”

“During the 2016 campaign, I said it would be my last campaign and final term. That was my strong preference, and my wife’s—we both looked forward to a normal private life. Neither of us anticipated the Democrats’ complete takeover of government and the disastrous policies they have already inflicted on America and the world, to say nothing of those they threaten to enact in the future,” he wrote in the Journal.

Johnson also forecast a fierce campaign, warning that Democrats would attack him with language offering a nod to top culture war issues for the GOP.

“Tens of millions of dollars will be spent trying to destroy and defeat me. The mainstream media and Big Tech will contribute their powerful and corrupt voices as the unofficial but reliable communication apparatus of the Democrats. We face powerful forces that desire even more power and control over our lives. Their path, paved with false hope and greater dependency, always leads to tyranny. We cannot let them win,” he wrote.

The announcement comes against the backdrop of what is anticipated to be a fearsome battle for the Senate, which is currently divided 50-50. Any one seat could decide which party controls the upper chamber come 2023, and both Republicans and Democrats have clamored for Johnson to make his bid official. 

Republicans boast that Johnson is their strongest candidate in the Badger State. He unseated former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in the Tea Party wave in 2010, overcoming a titan in Wisconsin politics despite being left for dead. He was similarly abandoned by the party establishment in 2016, when he unexpectedly fended off Feingold in a rematch, a victory GOP operatives suggest highlights a unique connection Johnson enjoys with the Wisconsin electorate.

Johnson is anticipated to cruise to the nomination, another advantage in addition to his already high name recognition as Democrats battle it out in a crowded primary.

However, Democrats too have clamored for Johnson to run again. 

The urge runs counter to conventional wisdom, which contends that open seats are typically easier to flip than going against a sitting incumbent with an existing campaign bank account and large name recognition. But party operatives point to outlandish comments on the coronavirus, 2020 election, racial justice protests and more and view him as vulnerable.

Johnson has been dogged by criticism of provocative remarks since 2010, when he said sunspots were more likely to contribute to climate change than human behavior.

More recently, however, he has commented that “mouthwash has been proven to kill the coronavirus” and questioned “the point” of vaccines if fully vaccinated individuals can still catch COVID-19.

He has also been a vocal proponent of an election “audit” in Wisconsin and praised rioters who stormed the capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as people who “love this country.”

Those comments and more are expected to be featured heavily in attack ads by Democrats who are chomping at the bit to take on the two-term senator.

Democrats also note that Johnson is closely allied with former President Trump, who narrowly lost Wisconsin in 2020. 

“Ron Johnson is what you get when QAnon and the Tea Party have a baby. And I hope that he does run. His candidacy makes the race far more competitive for Democrats,” Wisconsin Democratic consultant Ben Nuckels told The Hill earlier this month. 

Among the Democrats running in the race are Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson. 

Democrats pounced on Johnson’s announcement, noting his previous two-term pledge and casting the senator, who is independently wealthy, of looking out for his own interests over those of Wisconsinites.

“The only people celebrating Ron Johnson’s announcement are his donors and the corporate special interest groups he’s bailed out time and time again,” Barnes said in a statement. “Let’s get to work and retire this failed senator.”

“Ron Johnson has spent the last decade catering to the ultra-wealthy millionaires and corporate interests who fund his campaign,” Nelson added in his own statement. “Wisconsin needs a Senator that will promote Main Street solutions to our rigged economy, not another millionaire or billionaire.”

Wisconsin for decades has been characterized by razor-thin margins in statewide contests and has been a top battleground for several consecutive cycles. Trump barely won the state in 2016 before losing it by a similarly tight margin in 2020. Wisconsin will also host a competitive gubernatorial election this year as Gov. Tony Evers (D) fights for a second term.

Updated 11:00 a.m.

Tags Donald Trump Ron Johnson Tony Evers

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