Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes all but locked up the Democratic nomination for Senate on Friday when his last remaining major rival, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, abandoned her campaign and gave him her endorsement ahead of Wisconsin's Aug. 9 primary.
The development capped a remarkable week for Barnes: On Monday, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson quit the contest and backed the lieutenant governor, while two days later, former Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry did the same. Following Lasry's departure, Godlewski insisted she'd remain in the race, but despite self-funding $4 million, she trailed badly in the polls and had little chance of overtaking the frontrunner.
Barnes had spent a year battling this trio for the right to take on Sen. Ron Johnson, the most vulnerable Republican senator up for re-election in November. If he's successful, he'd be the state's first Black member of the Senate, a journey that would cap a swift rise over the last decade.
Barnes, now 35, first won office in 2012 by ousting a Democratic member of the state Assembly after castigating the incumbent for his support of school vouchers. He then ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, easily winning his own primary and then, as part of a ticket with Tony Evers, narrowly ousting Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his number two, Rebecca Kleefisch (who is now running against Evers for her old boss' job).
Barnes' toughest assignment remains ahead of him, however. Wisconsin is the very definition of a swing state, and Johnson, unlike most Republicans running for the Senate, has actually raised a legit amount—almost $18 million—and is also very rich. Barnes, to date, has brought in a much smaller $7 million, but his fundraising is sure to skyrocket now that the entire Democratic Party has rallied around him.
Lasry is also providing a gracious boost: The wealthy ex-candidate, who'd given his own campaign $15 million, still had $584,000 in paid-for but unused TV airtime after bowing out, so he decided to run a flight of ads hammering Johnson for outsourcing jobs.
Ultimately, far more will be spent on this race, which will be one of the most expensive in the country. But Barnes now gets a week-and-a-half head start for a critical three-month sprint that may determine whether Democrats retain control of the Senate.
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