Democrat Mandela Barnes set to challenge Wisconsin GOP Senator Johnson

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes won the Democratic Senate primary on Tuesday and will face two-term Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in what is expected to be one of the nation’s most competitive races for control of the nation. US Senate.

Barnes’ main rivals dropped out of the race late last month and backed the former lawmaker, a sign of Democrats’ intense focus on defeating Johnson, who is one of the former’s most vocal supporters. President Donald Trump. The Senate is currently split 50-50, with Democrats counting on the vice president to sever ties, and the Wisconsin contest is one of the few races to kick off in November.

Voters were also choosing a Republican candidate for governor of Wisconsin who could reshape the way the election is played out on the marquee battleground, where Trump is still pushing to reverse his 2020 defeat and support candidates he considers as allies.

FOLLOW LIVE: 2022 Wisconsin primary election results

Trump backed businessman Tim Michels, a self-proclaimed outsider who has invested $12 million in his own campaign, against former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who has the backing of former Vice President Mike Pence. and the former governor. Scott Walker. Both candidates falsely claim the 2020 election was rigged, although Kleefisch said decertifying the results is “unconstitutional”, while Michels said “everything will be on the table”.

The race to take on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is another proxy war between Trump and Pence, with former partners now pursuing different futures for the Republican Party. They also backed opposing GOP rivals in the primaries in Arizona and Georgia — swing states that, like Wisconsin, are expected to be critical in the 2024 presidential race when both men could be on the ballot.

The primary comes a day after FBI agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate as part of an investigation into whether he took classified White House files to his Florida residence , two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

Trump also backed a little-known challenger to the state’s most powerful Republican, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who rejected the former president’s push to decertify the 2020 results.

Tuesday’s results have far-reaching implications beyond Wisconsin, a state nearly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats and where 2022 will be seen as a predictor for the 2024 presidential race. Whoever elected governor this fall will serve for the presidential election and will be able to sign or veto changes to election laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The next U.S. governor and senator can also influence decisions on issues ranging from abortion to education and taxes.

“We’re a 50-50 state and so every race in Wisconsin, just by definition, is going to be decided by a few percentage points one way or another,” said former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. . “And those few percentage points in Wisconsin may well set the course of the nation for years to come.”

Elsewhere on Tuesday, voters in Vermont — the only state to never have a woman in its congressional delegation — chose a woman, Becca Balint, as the Democratic nominee for the state’s only House seat. She is favored in the race to replace Rep. Peter Welch, who won the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat long held by retiring Patrick Leahy. In Connecticut, Republicans were picking an opponent to face two-term Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. And Minnesota Republicans picked Dr. Scott Jensen, a skeptic of the state’s GOP-endorsed COVID-19 vaccine, to face Gov. Tim Walz.

But the most-watched races are in Wisconsin, where Trump has maintained his push campaign to overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory. Biden won nearly 21,000 votes, four years after Trump also narrowly won the state with about the same margin. The 2020 result was upheld in two partial recounts, a nonpartisan audit, a review by a conservative law firm and multiple lawsuits.

Both Michels and Kleefisch have said nullifying the 2020 election results is not a priority. But they said they would dismantle the bipartisan commission that runs Wisconsin’s election and support a ban on voters asking anyone else to deliver their mail-in ballots, as well as ballot boxes located anywhere other than in staffed clerk’s offices.

Evers has put voting and elections at the center of his own campaign, telling voters he is the only candidate who will stand up for democracy and “we are about to not count our votes in the state of Wisconsin.”

READ MORE: Senate narrowly passes Democrats’ economic package and sends it to the House

Kleefisch is a former television journalist who served with Walker for two terms, including when he effectively ended collective bargaining for most state public employees in 2011, sparking huge protests and an attempt to failed recall. She says she’s best prepared to win statewide in November and embrace conservative priorities, including investing more in policing, expanding school choice programs and implementing a flat income tax. .

During a campaign stop with Kleefisch last week, Pence said no other gubernatorial candidate in the United States was “more capable, more experienced or a more proven conservative.”

Michels is co-owner of Wisconsin’s largest construction company and has touted his work building the family business. He lost the 2004 Senate race to Democratic Senator Russ Feingold and was a major donor to GOP politicians.

At a rally on Friday, Trump hailed Michels as an “incredible achievement.” He criticized Kleefisch as part of the “failed establishment” and also took aim at Vos. He told his supporters that Michels would win the primary “easily” and that he was the best choice to defeat Evers.

Michels promised that “we’re going to have election integrity here in Wisconsin.” He also said he would bring “law and order” back to Wisconsin, criticized Evers’ handling of schools and blamed Biden for the price hikes.

Voter Gary Steinbrecher, 62, said he voted for Kleefisch on Tuesday because she opposes abortion and “has been around for a long time.” He also thinks she has the best chance of defeating Evers.

“I think she would appeal to suburban women voters more than other candidates,” said semi-retired Steinbrecher.

Franklin Szpot, 42, voted for Michels. He said he appreciates that Michels is a business owner and served in the U.S. military. Szpot also liked the contestant’s “to the point” ads.

“He just seems like a sensible type of guy and he’s the kind of person we need in the office right now,” he said.

GOP state Rep. Tim Ramthun is also making a long-running bid for governor and has made nullifying Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes for Biden the centerpiece of his campaign.

The candidate Trump has endorsed to face Vos, Adam Steen, said he would decertify Biden’s victory.

The Senate race was already seen as a fight between Johnson and Barnes, who would be Wisconsin’s first black senator if elected.

Burnett reported from Chicago. Journalist Gretchen Ehlke contributed from Thiensville, Wis.


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