Jul 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats consolidate around progressive in Wisconsin Senate race

Mandela Barnes and Tammy Baldwin
Mandela Barnes and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Photo: Darren Hauck/Getty Images

Milwaukee Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry abruptly dropped out of the Wisconsin Senate race Wednesday, all but guaranteeing progressive Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes will be the Democratic Party's nominee against GOP Sen. Ron Johnson.

Driving the news: The move sent political shockwaves through Wisconsin: Lasry spent over $12 million of his own money on the campaign, and public polls showed him running competitively with Barnes — whom he endorsed after dropping out.

  • "Mandela won this race," Lasry told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I think it was clear there was no path forward for us to be able to win."
  • He's the second Democrat to drop out this week, after Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson withdrew Monday and backed Barnes.

State of play: Lasry had been losing ground to Barnes in the last two weeks, according to a campaign strategist, and he didn't want to play spoiler in the race's final weeks.

  • Lasry's ads were all positive spots, opting not to go negative against a trail-blazing African American challenger.
  • State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski remains in the race, but she has stopped airing ads on television and lagged behind Barnes and Lasry in public polling.

Why it matters: Wisconsin's Senate race is shaping up to be a battle between a true-blue progressive and a hard-right conservative in one of the country's most-competitive battlegrounds.

  • Barnes has embraced left-wing positions on issues ranging from bail reform to the Green New Deal, even at the risk of turning off swing voters. He's been endorsed by major progressive figures, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
  • Johnson is the most vulnerable Republican senator up in 2022. His history of courting controversy — including promoting former President Trump's false election claims and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines — has made him a top villain for Democrats.
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