What you need to know about the eight candidates declared to run against GOP Sen. Ron Johnson.
NOTE: This story was updated on Aug. 3, 2021, after state Sen. Chris Larson dropped out of the race.
There’s no shortage of Democratic candidates vying for Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s seat in 2022, even as he has not announced if he is running for a third term himself.
Currently, there are eight Democratic candidates who have officially declared their entrance into the Senate race and one who has formed an exploratory committee. One candidate already dropped out of the race.
The Democratic nominee in the August 2022 primary will face Johnson—or another Republican candidate if he does not run—on Nov. 8, 2022.
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson was the first to announce his candidacy, in October of last year. He previously served in the Wisconsin State Assembly for six years, one of them as the majority leader. He also was a 2020 Democratic National Convention presidential delegate for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He had unsuccessful runs for lieutenant governor in 2010 and Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District in 2016.
Nelson has been a Wisconsin native since he was 4 years old when his family moved here from Minnesota. He is running on a platform of a “blue-green coalition” of environmental and labor movements. He supports the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, criminal justice reform, protections for voting rights, and the elimination of the filibuster, amongst other policies.
Many of his campaign advertisements have centered around his grassroots fundraising methods, talking about garage sales or lemonade stands in his commercials because “Senate races are really expensive — especially if you aren’t super-rich. As you can see, I can’t self-fund, no matter how many toy dinosaurs I sell,” he quips in one ad.
Endorsements for Nelson include former Gov. Tony Earl; state Sen. Kelda Roys; state Rep. Nick Milroy (D-South Range); former state Reps. Chris Danou, Stan Gruszynski, Donna Seidel, Gary Sherman, and James Soletski; former state Sen. Jessica King; Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman; Outagamie County Board supervisors Chris Croatt, Cindy Fallona, Jeff McCabe, and Travis Thyssen; Shawano County Board Supervisor, tribal council, and Bowler School Board Member Joe Miller; former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz; former anchor/reporter at WFRV-TV in Green Bay Erin Davisson; and organizations Green Bay Area Firefighters Local 141, Appleton Fire Fighters Local 257, and Grand Chute Fire Department Local 3655.
In February, Senior Vice President of the Milwaukee Bucks Alex Lasry took a leave of absence to announce his run for Johnson’s Senate seat. Lasry has lived in Wisconsin for seven years, since his father Marc Lasry, a billionaire hedge fund manager, purchased the Bucks. He originally is from New York City.
Lasry says he plans to fight for workers through numerous different policy platforms such as letting companies earn tax cuts as a reward for manufacturing in America and treating workers well. He also advocates for creating a workers’ bill of rights that protects their right to a fair and living wage and their right to unionize.
He has mostly business experience, but Lasry did serve as an aide in the Obama administration to senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Though not official political experience, he touts his participation in the Black Lives Matter protests with the Milwaukee Bucks, his assistance in developing the Deer District and Fiserv Forum, the “Bucks Vote” initiative, and his heading of the committee for Milwaukee’s bid to host the 2020 DNC.
According to Federal Election Commission filings, Lasry raised over $1 million just about six weeks after his campaign started, with many of his donors having connections to the Milwaukee Bucks or Wall Street investors. Nelson raised about $264,000 in the first three months of the year. A third of Lasry’s donations have come from out-of-state contributors who gave him $5800, the maximum amount of money that they can donate to his campaign.
Lasry’s endorsements include former state Sen. Dave Hansen, former state Rep. Dana Wachs, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, Milwaukee Alderwomen Nikiya Harris Dodd and JoCasta Zamarripa, Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, Kenosha County Executive James Kreuser, former Kenosha County Executive John Collins, Democratic National Committee (DNC) members Martha Love and Khary Penebaker, Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians President Shannon Holsey, state Rep. and Dane County Supervisor Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison), Wisconsin Teamsters Joint Council 39, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 494, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 18.
Sarah Godlewski has been serving Wisconsin as the state treasurer since 2018, but as of April 14, she’s also running for US Senate.
Born and raised in Eau Claire, Godlewski is a fifth-generation Wisconsinite. Though she lived in Washington, DC for a number of years, she moved back to Wisconsin in 2017. Previously, she worked for the US Department of Defense where she says she helped the military to support the troops and rooted out wasteful spending to help save taxpayers money. She also served in Hillary Clinton’s 2008 and 2016 presidential runs.
In her political experience at the state Capitol, Godlewski said she beat former Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to eliminate the role of State Treasurer, ended the Republican gag order on climate change, supported funding for renewable energy and small businesses, delivered record funding for books and technology in school libraries, and led an initiative to boost home ownership and retirement security.
If elected to the Senate, Godlewski says she wants to combat climate change, lower the cost of prescription drugs, address inequality in the justice system, ban LGBTQ discrimination, protect voting rights, raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and end the filibuster.
Endorsements for Godlewski include pro-choice group EMILY’s List; Tia Nelson, environmental activist and daughter of former Gov. Gaylord Nelson; former CEO of the DNC Host Committee Raquel Filmanowicz; state Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire); state Rep. Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire); state Rep. Sue Conley (D-Janesville); former state Rep. Debra Kolste (D-Janesville); state Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D-Milwaukee); state Rep. Chris Sinicki (D-Milwaukee); activist and UW-Eau Claire professor Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton; River Falls Alderwoman Diane Odeen; former Dunn County Democrats chair Bill Hogseth; former Assistant Secretary of the Interior Ada Deer; Hudson City Council Member Joyce Hall; former La Crosse County Board Chair Tara Johnson; De Pere Common Council Member Jonathon Hansen; Monona City Council Member Molly Grupe; Monona Grove School Board President Loreen Gage; Brown Deer Trustee Emily Siegrist; Superior City Council Member Jenny Van Sickle; Verona City Council Member Kate Cronin; former Verona City Council Member Katie Kohl; former Shorewood Village Trustee Jessica Carpenter; Eau Claire County Supervisor Chris Hambuch-Boyle; Eau Claire Area School Board Member Erica Zerr; former Winnebago County Board Supervisor Stephanie Spellman; St. Croix County Supervisor Tim Hall; Sheboygan County Board Supervisor Rebecca Clarke; Sheboygan Town Board Member Alexandra Nugent; Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Liz Sumner; Dane County Board Supervisor Maureen McCarville; Dane County community leader Fatou Ceesay; Dane County entrepreneur and activist Masood Akhtar; Calumet County Supervisor Emily Voight-Cone; and Eau Claire alderpeople Dr. Emily Anderson, Kate Beaton, Emily Berge, Catherine Emmanuelle, Jeremy Gragert, and Andrew Werthmann.
Wausau radiologist Dr. Gillian Battino launched her campaign in early May, highlighting her unique experience as a mom of six children and a healthcare provider.
Her website provides in-depth information on her platform and specific issues such as the environment, healthcare, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, working families, gun safety, and democracy reform. She supports specific policies including the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, the Equality Act that would protect LGBTQ rights, the preservation of DACA, the PRO Act that would protect workers’ right to unionize, the For the People Act that would protect voting rights, a $15 minimum wage, statehood of Washington, DC, and abolishing the filibuster.
Battino has been endorsed by Doctors in Politics, an organization that encourages doctors to run for state and federal office.
Milwaukee attorney Peter Peckarsky is utilizing his “education, experience, and creativity to address the complex problems our country is facing today” by running for US Senate, according to a press release from his campaign. He announced his candidacy on July 3.
Peckarsky is a Milwaukee native, but he also has degrees from both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Case Western Reserve University. He has served as a consultant for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and the Director of Naval Intelligence. In 2017, he ran to be the chairman of the DNC but eventually dropped out.
In his press release, he said he aims to focus on issues such as making medical care a basic right for all, creating an education system without debt, protecting the environment and addressing climate change, eliminating structural racism and economic inequality, defending workers’ right to unionize, supporting family farmers, and safeguarding the right to vote.
Adam Murphy unsuccessfully ran for state Senate in 2020, losing to now-Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) in a suburban Milwaukee district. Despite his loss, Murphy still has his sights set on a political career. Murphy is an IT business owner from Franklin, and he recently filed paperwork with the FEC for his US Senate candidacy.
Murphy, who is white, is perhaps best known for calling himself racist during a radio interview last year and saying his pulse may have quickened if he encountered Bradley, who is Black, on the street a few years ago.
During the campaign last year, Murphy returned to school at UW-Milwaukee to get his bachelor’s degree in political science with a specialized focus on legal studies, and now he is pursuing a master’s degree in economics as well, he wrote in a March Facebook post. In his 2020 state Senate run, he supported issues including affordable healthcare, free state college for residents, paid training in the trades, green manufacturing, and marijuana legalization.
Following the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, Murphy attributed blame to Johnson and his “ridiculous support of the lies told by Donald Trump and his supporters.” In the same Facebook post, Murphy said, “I am coming for his job.”
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes announced his Senate candidacy on July 20 after months of speculation that he would enter the race.
Barnes is a Milwaukee native, and he served two terms representing the 11th Assembly District from 2013-17. He also ran unsuccessfully for state Sen. Lena Taylor’s seat in 2016. Barnes was elected lieutenant governor in 2018, and he ran on issues like funding free 2-year college and debt-free 4-year college, creating affordable healthcare options, investing in renewable energy, and raising the minimum wage.
Barnes’ candidacy also clouds the governor’s race, as Gov. Tony Evers will have to find a new running mate heading into next year’s election.
When Barnes announced, Evers released a statement through his re-election campaign calling Barnes “a good friend and … great partner,” but he stopped short of an endorsement.
“We’re lucky to have strong Democratic candidates who are running to send him packing, and I look forward to supporting Wisconsin Democrats’ choice to take on Ron Johnson in 2022,” Evers said in his statement.
Barnes already has endorsements from US Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) and organizations Democracy for America, Collective PAC, MoveOn Wisconsin, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and Wisconsin Working Families Party.
Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis joined the race the day after Barnes’ announcement.
Lewis is a second-term alderwoman, small-business owner, military veteran, and pastor, according to her campaign website. She did not lay out specific policy platforms, but said in her experience as alderwoman she “has facilitated historic economic development projects, passed key reforms that made city government more transparent and restored her constituents’ confidence in the role public officials can play to make our communities safer and more prosperous.”
Though he has not yet officially declared his candidacy, founder of the political nonprofit Millennial Action Project Steven Olikara announced the formation of his exploratory committee on May 25. His website describes him as a proud Wisconsinite, the son of Indian immigrants, an entrepreneur, and a nonprofit leader. He is a graduate of Brookfield East High School and UW-Madison but now lives in Milwaukee.
Millennial Action Project is a multi-million dollar national organization that trains young elected officials at the state and federal levels to “build diverse coalitions for real change” on issues like voting rights, criminal justice, entrepreneurship, and clean energy.
Olikara has set off on his Dignity Tour, based on his slogan “Dignity for All,” across the state to meet with farmers, factory workers, small business owners, entrepreneurs, veterans, Indigenous communities, and more to build his agenda.
In 2010, Chris Larson was elected to represent the state’s 7th Senate District in Milwaukee County as the youngest serving state senator. He ran hoping to “unrig the system” and challenge the establishment in Congress, but Larson suspended his campaign on Aug. 3 and endorsed Mandela Barnes.
Born and raised in Wisconsin, Larson graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a degree in finance and a minor in political science. He previously served as a Milwaukee County supervisor, advocating for investments in parks, the transit system, and EMS.
Larson pledged to create “a Wisconsin that works for all.” This includes his three big policy focuses: the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and a wealth tax. Other topics he supports include legalizing marijuana, cancelling student debt, expanding rural broadband, a $15 minimum wage, the PRO Act, the For the People Act, and defending unions and the working class.
His website states that Larson will not be accepting corporate PAC money to fund his campaign and is instead relying on grassroots support and donations.
Blue America, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and We Have The People endorsed Larson, as did former presidential candidate and author Marianne Williamson; former Milwaukee School Board Director Dr. Tony Báez; state Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee); Milwaukee County Supervisors Ryan Clancy and Steven Shea; Milwaukee County Board Supervisor John F. Weishan Jr.; Madison School Board Member Nicki Vander Meulen; former Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Frederick P. Kessler; activist and blogger Howie Klein; Brady Street Area Association President Alexander Kostal; community advocate and conservationist Barb Schoenherr; student and activist Jonathan McCray Jones; and owner of Lazy Susan restaurant in Milwaukee AJ Dixon.
Though not an official endorsement, US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) pointed to Larson’s fundraising website in response to a post by the Hill that read: “Milwaukee newspaper tells reader Ron Johnson ‘not fit to be your senator.’” Omar replied, “Another reminder of why you should support @ChrisJLarson.”