The 35-year-old former Lieutenant Governor and US Senate candidate tells us what he’s working on now, what’s next, and his six favorite Wisconsin places to visit while on the road.
Despite being massively outspent and written off by nearly every pundit in one of the most expensive races in Wisconsin history, former Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes came within 26,000 votes of defeating incumbent Republican Ron Johnson in November 2022.
Earlier this year, Barnes launched his next chapter, The Long Run PAC, an organization committed to getting more young candidates, candidates of color, LGBTQ+ candidates, and working-class candidates on the ballot to change what’s happening in Washington–starting in critical swing states like Wisconsin.
But what’s next for the 35-year-old progressive himself? Will he ever run for office again? If so, for what? We sat down with Barnes to get answers to these (and more) questions.
UpNorthNews: First, how are YOU doing after losing Wisconsin’s open Senate seat by just 26,000 votes?
Mandela Barnes: I certainly took some time to rest and reflect, and I am incredibly proud of the race we ran and the support we had. We came historically close to beating Ron Johnson, and that speaks to the coalitions we were able to build across this state. These coalitions and supporter groups were certainly what got me through the past few months. They put in so much work to my campaign and I owe it to them to keep up the fight, which is why I am excited to keep them engaged and energized.
How quickly after that loss did you come up with the idea for The Long Run PAC?
Ever since I heard Barack Obama’s DNC speech in 2004, I knew I wanted to dedicate my career to enacting real and lasting change in our communities—and that means supporting the people who are stepping up to make that happen. All across the country, we see diverse changemakers running for office, and I want to make sure they have the support they need to succeed.
We deserve to have elected leaders that reflect the American people, but I know well how hard it is to gather the resources and support you need in order to run and win.
How are you finding young, diverse, working class candidates to support? And what does “support” from your PAC look like?
I am looking at people that are stepping up to run in competitive races. They can apply on our website, but we’re looking out for them, too! We’re planning to support candidates across the country, but Wisconsin is home, so naturally, a big focus will be here.
We will support candidates financially as much as we can, but we also want to help raise their profile by bringing more attention to these important races and providing technical assistance where we can. I learned so much about how to run a race—like how to raise money and build a winning team—through my own campaign, so I plan to be personally involved as much as possible in theirs.
Now to the question everyone’s wondering–will your name be on the ballot again?
Serving as Lt. Governor [from 2019-2023] and then being part of the most competitive Senate race in the country [in 2022] were both incredible honors, and I’m so proud of the work we did and the real and lasting change we created. Public service runs deep in my family and if there is an opportunity to serve the people of Wisconsin in the future, I will certainly consider it.
Let’s end with a fun question: Since you traveled the state so much during your campaign, can you name five things every person living in Wisconsin should experience in their lifetime?
Five just isn’t enough, so I had to add a sixth:
- BP Smokehouse BBQ in Tomah: Darren and Myra Price’s restaurant has some of the best barbeque in the state in a perhaps more unexpected location.
- The Milton House Museum in Milton: It’s one of the only authenticated underground railroad sites in Wisconsin, and you can take a great tour to learn about the history of the abolitionist movement in our state.
- The Milwaukee Night Market: It never disappoints and brings together the city to celebrate our local artists, performers, and food every summer. And it’s free!
- The Northwoods: Whether you’re fishing, snowmobiling, spending time at a cabin, or driving through the incredible fall colors, northern Wisconsin can’t be beat.
- The Chalet Cheese Co-Op in Monroe: This list would not be complete without one of my favorite cheese shops in the state. I have gotten to visit Voegeli Farms, a five generation dairy farm in Monticello, that provides milk to the co-op.
- Al’s Hamburgers in Green Bay: This has always been my go to when I am in town–their burgers and tots are the perfect combination!
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