This Week on the Senate Campaign Trail

By Julian Emerson
February 26, 2022

For the week of Feb. 21: Barnes talks business, Nelson criticizes Barnes, Battino drops out to run for a different office.

[Editor’s Note: Extensive coverage of election campaigns often does not start until summertime, but the US Senate race in Wisconsin is already extremely active, as it is one of the most watched, most competitive races in the country. This article kicks off our occasional summary of activity among the many candidates currently in the race. Individual daily stories will still be written by our reporters as conditions warrant, but we want to bring you a sampling of the many other things the candidates are doing to try to earn your vote later this year.]

[So far the Democratic race has been dominated by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, and Alex Lasry, an executive with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Democrats will square off in an Aug. 9 primary, with the winner facing incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in the Nov. 8 general election.]

Mandela Barnes

In recent weeks Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has held small business roundtable events across Wisconsin, hearing from the owners of those operations, and on Tuesday he released his plan to better support them along with family farmers.

Barnes’ plan includes increasing funding to rural business development efforts, lowering Medicare eligibility to age 50 (it is generally age 65 currently), and ensuring that federally funded projects use union laborers and American-made products. 

In addition, Barnes said he would fight in the Senate “to deliver affordable and high-quality child care so more Wisconsinites with young children that want to work, can work.”

During a stop in Eau Claire Wednesday, Barnes met with small business owners and heard about their struggles. From having trouble finding enough workers to accessing child care and health care, they continue to face even as the coronavirus pandemic seems to be receding. 

“These are the realities for a lot of people, for a lot of small businesses,” Barnes said after hearing four small business owners describe obstacles they face. “[Government] too often isn’t looking out for small businesses and farmers. They’re being left behind.”

Reactions to This Week’s Headlines

Ukraine – Candidates and incumbents released statements this week opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Johnson also condemned Russia’s actions and was sharply critical of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“Ultimately, there is only one group of people responsible for the tragedies unfolding–Vladimir Putin and his cronies,” Johnson said. But Johnson has also faced widespread criticism for spreading Russian misinformation about Ukraine during the past couple of years.

Clean Water – The decision by the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board Wednesday to oppose setting a tighter limit on groundwater PFAS contamination also prompted reaction. Pollution by the man-made chemicals that have been linked to cancers and other health concerns has become a growing issue, with more than 50 communities across Wisconsin having reported PFAS contamination.

“Today’s decision puts corporations before the health and wellbeing of Wisconsin families,” Godlewski said of the board’s decision.

Oshkosh Jobs – Nelson was sharply critical of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for stipulating that only 10% of 165,000 new mail trucks for the United States Postal Service will be electric-powered. The vehicles will be built as part of a $6 billion contract with Oshkosh Defense. President Joe Biden’s administration has voiced support for all new federal vehicles to be electric. 

DeJoy “is making a colossal mistake by deciding to move forward with his plan to build 90 percent of the new mail trucks as gas-powered vehicles,” Nelson said. 

As seen in an UpNorthNews video report this week, Nelson is among the Democrats criticizing Johnson for saying he won’t ask Oshkosh Defense to change its plans to locate the USPS vehicle jobs in South Carolina instead of Oshkosh.

Nelson, Godlewski, Barnes, and Lasry were among those advertised as planning to appear Saturday at a rally outside the corporation’s headquarters being organized by United Auto Workers Union 578.

Supreme Court – Barnes, Nelson, and others praised President Joe Biden’s nomination Friday of Judge Katanji Brown Jackson to the US Supreme Court. 

Nelson Levels Charge Against Barnes

For the most part, the Democratic candidates have taken aim only at Johnson thus far in the campaign—for everything from his support of election conspiracy theories to his refusal to help bring 1,000 jobs to his hometown, Oshkosh. But in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story published Thursday, Nelson leveled criticism at Barnes, the perceived front-runner in the race, saying Barnes is “changing his position” on issues. 

Specifically, Nelson said Barnes previously supported such stances as Medicare for all, the Green New Deal, and defunding the police but now doesn’t speak to those issues. 

Barnes’ campaign said he continues to support Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. They said he has backed off of defunding police, but that is not a new position. 

Gillian Battino Switches to Treasurer’s Race

The field of Democrats running to oppose Johnson in the US Senate shrunk to 12 after Gillian Battino, a radiologist who lives in Wausau, withdrew from the Senate race on Wednesday and entered the contest for state treasurer. It will be an open seat since Godlewski is among the Senate contenders. 

“Education, healthcare, and economic stability – particularly in our rural communities and non-wealthy metropolitan communities – are problems that can and must be addressed on the state level,” Battino wrote in an email on Friday.

Several candidates are already running for the treasurer’s post, including former state Treasurer Dawn Marie Sass, West Allis city council member Angelito Tenorio, and Fitchburg Mayor Aaron Richardson on the Democratic side. The Republican primary candidates include Jeanette Deschene of Manitowoc and Orlando Owens, an aide to Johnson.


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