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Ron Johnson Narrowly Defeats Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin Senate Race, Putting GOP Closer to Senate Majority

Ron Johnson, Mandela Barnes

Ron Johnson, Mandela Barnes

Ron Johnson, Mandela Barnes.
Photo: STR/NurPhoto via Getty; Sara Stathas for the Washington Post/Getty

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson has won his bid for reelection in a close race that could help determine which party ultimately controls the Senate.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes had hoped to unseat Johnson, who is one of the least popular GOP congressman (his favorability rating sat around 37% in June).

Still, Barnes was dubbed too extreme by those on the right who said he was soft on crime.

The two were starkly different.

Barnes, 35, is a Black native of Milwaukee with a middle-class background who was first elected to state legislature at 25 years old. Johnson, 67, is a Minnesota native and a multimillionaire from his former job as the CEO of a polyester and plastics manufacturing company.

Former President Barack Obama endorsed Barnes, making an ad supporting the lieutenant governor and appearing with Barnes in Milwaukee in an effort to energize voters.

Johnson has courted controversy in recent years for, among other things, making an appearance at a Juneteenth celebration in Milwaukee — one year after he had blocked legislation to make the day a federal holiday.

The Republican has also publicly stated that he was warned by the FBI in 2020 that he could be a target for Russian disinformation months before the U.S. presidential election.

Later, he claimed — to boos from a debate audience — that he had been set up.

“The FBI set me up with a corrupt briefing and then leaked that to smear me,” Johnson said to audience jeers in October.

Johnson has also previously been criticized for saying he didn’t feel threatened during the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, which were carried out by a group of overwhelmingly white Trump supporters, but that he would have if the rioters had been supporters of Black Lives Matter or Antifa.

“Even though those thousands of people that were marching to the Capitol were trying to pressure people like me to vote the way they wanted me to vote,” Johnson said on the conservative talk radio Joe Pags Show in 2021, “I knew those were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, and so I wasn’t concerned.”

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Johnson was elected in 2010 and reelected in 2016, issuing a pledge that same year that he would retire after two terms. In January 2022, he changed his mind, announcing he would run for a third term.