WI-Sen: On Wednesday, several supporters of Democrat Mandela Barnes held a press conference to decry how Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and his allies have, in the words of one speaker, "used race and fear as their main election tactics" against the man who would be Wisconsin's first Black senator.
Barnes' backers specifically focused on two commercials run by Republican outside groups. One of these messages came from Wisconsin Truth PAC, which has so far received $10 million from conservative megadonors Diane Hendricks and Dick and Liz Uihlein, and portrays the candidate as weak on public safety. The spot plays footage from what the narrator calls "actual crime scenes across Wisconsin," including a clip of several people in panic during a shooting.
The ad then draws a red circle around one of the gunmen next to on-screen text reading "Mandela Barnes." The narrator goes on to accuse the Democrat of wanting to defund the police despite all this violence, a position Barnes does not in fact hold.
The speakers at the press conference also drew attention to an NRSC spot that features a photo of Barnes next to three members of the so-called "Squad," all of whom are women of color, and the words "Different. Dangerous." Barnes' allies further cited a mailer from the state Republican Party that used a filter that darkened the Democrat's skin. The Republicans behind all these messages, unsurprisingly, have responded by denying that any of their advertising is racist.
Barnes himself is also pushing back on the GOP's crime-themed attacks with a new commercial starring a retired police sergeant, Rick Geller. Geller tells the audience, "Mandela doesn't want to defund the police. He's very supportive of law enforcement, and I know his objective is to make every community in the state of Wisconsin better." The former officer, who does not reference any of the attacks against Barnes, adds, "As a retired cop, I want someone like Mandela."
However, it's likely that far more Badger State TV viewers will be seeing the GOP's ads than any rebuttal from Barnes. That's because, as the HuffPost's Kevin Robillard writes, Johnson and his outside group allies have spent about $1.6 million more on commercials over the last two weeks than Barnes' side. The article adds that Republicans have a 3,000-point advantage in gross ratings points, which measure how many times, on average, members of an ad's target audience have seen it. (We go into more detail about GRPs here.)
Robillard explains that one major problem for Team Blue is that Johnson is the rare GOP Senate candidate this cycle who has decisively outraised his rival, so he's able to effectively take advantage of FCC regulations that give candidates—but not outside groups—discounted rates on TV and radio. A big reason why is that, while Republicans in other top-tier contests had to get through competitive primaries, the senator could concentrate on the general election as soon as he announced his re-election campaign in January.
Barnes, by contrast, only effectively claimed the Democratic nod in late July when his last serious opponent dropped out less than two weeks ahead of the primary, leaving him with a comparatively short amount of time to appeal to previously neutral donors. However, while we won't have a full picture of post-primary fundraising until after the quarter ends on Sept. 30, there's some encouraging data for the challenger. Politico reports that he took in almost $6.3 million from donors on ActBlue in August, which was a huge increase from his $1.8 million take the month before.