The Capitol Report: US Senator Johnson is fighting for re-election again, but will he be able to replay the 2016 victory?
Senator Ron Johnson is once again vying for re-election in what is expected to be a Republican year.
But is the Oshkosh Republican ready for another win like his 2016 rematch with Russ Feingold? Or does he become an even better target for Democrats and Democratic nominee Mandela Barnes, who hope to retake the seat and add to the 50 Democratic seats in the US Senate?
Insiders are split on whether Johnson or Barnes will win. But recent developments heighten comparisons to 2016 and give Democrats hope.
– In 2016, Johnson was on the ballot as Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin and the country. He outperformed Trump in the GOP-rich suburb of Milwaukee that year by returning for a second six-year term.
This year, the politician often identified as “Trumpy” is distancing himself from Trump, whose brand could harm GOP candidates in these suburbs.
“First and foremost, my election is about my candidacy as a U.S. senator dealing with issues that affect the people of Wisconsin,” Johnson recently said on WISN’s “UpFront,” which is produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com. “I personally don’t think Trump should have any impact on this November 2022 election. What he does going forward is a decision he’s going to make.”
Johnson also said the Jan. 6 committee misrepresented its role in trying to deliver a list of fake voters to former Vice President Mike Pence.
“What would they ask me to testify about? Johnson said when asked if he would testify before the committee. “I had nothing to do with the alternative slate. I had no idea anyone was going to ask me to deliver them. My involvement in this delivery attempt lasted a few seconds.
– In 2016, Johnson said controversial things but often seemed able to present them in a positive way – like candid speech to voters. This year, some of the controversial comments are attracting more negative attention.
The latest is what used to be called the third rail of American politics – the funding of Social Security and Medicare.
Johnson proposes funding these senior safety net programs through the discretionary budget process.
Democrats have accused him of wanting to put the programs on the chopping block.
Johnson billed an article on his website as laying out a “comprehensive plan for future program viability.” In it, Johnson again called for making the programs part of the discretionary budget process, which involves an annual review of funding levels. But he
offered no other specific proposals to consolidate programs, focusing instead on how it would change the annual budget process.
Johnson acknowledged the proposals were unlikely to garner enough support from Democrats to meet the 60-vote threshold for passage, but argued it would allow “the American public to see who is standing in the way of a functional process”.
“The government has made promises it cannot keep,” Johnson wrote. “Unfortunately, most people in Washington would rather speak out than have serious conversations about saving these important programs. I won’t shy away from this conversation. It’s too important for all Americans and for the future of the nation.
– In August 2016, Johnson trailed Feingold by 11 points in the Marquette University Law School poll. In August, he lost 7 points against Barnes.
But insiders point to two big differences: Johnson’s unfavorable numbers are much higher than they were as he headed into fall 2016; and his opponent is far less known than Feingold was six years ago. The first difference makes it harder for Johnson to change voters’ minds. The latter makes it easier for Democrats to create a positive image of their candidate.
August 2016 was a low point for Johnson in his first re-election bid. National Republicans announced in mid-July that they would push back a scheduled August and September TV ad booking to the final three weeks of the race.
Johnson then changed his campaign team, parting ways with his advertising consultant and going off the air for two weeks.
In early August 2016, 34% of voters had a favorable opinion of Johnson, while 32% had a negative one.
But the latest Marquette poll found 38% of voters had a favorable opinion of Johnson, while 47% had an unfavorable one.
It underlines to some that the stream of negative ads against Johnson since early last year has had an impact.
AdImpact Politics, which tracks ad buys, found that $135.8 million had been set aside for the full cycle of the Wisconsin U.S. Senate race. This includes a significant benefit from Democratic groups of $76.3 million out of the $59.5 million spent by GOP organizations.
This is another difference from 2016. Open Secrets totaled $29.7 million in outside spending for the 2016 US Senate race for the full cycle. Of that amount, $10.3 million went to support Feingold or oppose Johnson, while $19.4 million was spent by those supporting the Oshkosh Republican.
These are some of the reasons Democrats say Johnson is the most vulnerable incumbent senator on the ballot this fall.
To learn more, visit WisPolitics.com
The Capitol Report is written by the editorial staff of WisPolitics.com, a Madison-based nonpartisan news service specializing in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association .
Copyright © WisPolitics.com