, , , ,

Bernie Sanders endorses Mandela Barnes for US Senate

Sanders joins growing list of progressive Democrats backing the lieutenant governor in Senate primary race

By
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes speaks to children in an auditorium.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes speaks to children attending Camp Rise on Thursday, July 14, 2022, at North Division High School in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes Monday in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate primary race. Sanders joins a growing list of endorsements from progressive members of Congress in Barnes’ bid to take on Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson this fall.

In a Monday morning tweet, Sanders said Barnes’ upbringing as the son of a public school teacher and union autoworker in Milwaukee means the lieutenant governor “knows the struggles of the working class.”

“His agenda advances the interests of working families, not the billionaire class,” said Sanders.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Barnes has leaned heavily on his family’s middle class background during his campaign to distinguish himself from wealthy Democratic opponents like Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, while also attacking Johnson.

Barnes has repeatedly talked about how his U.S. Senate run and election as lieutenant governor was only possible because of his parents’ blue-collar careers.

In a statement, Barnes’ campaign said Sanders’ endorsement shows he is focused on “uniting a broad base to defeat Ron Johnson this November.”

“The truth is, we have more in common with each other than we do with a pro-outsourcing, anti-jobs, anti-child care multimillionaire like Ron Johnson,” said Barnes’ statement. “Together, we’re going to flip this seat and fight for Wisconsin’s family farmers, small businesses, unions, and working families to have the fair shot they deserve.”

Sanders is the fourth former presidential candidate to endorse Barnes. In September, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, threw her support behind his campaign. On Friday, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker joined Barnes at a campaign rally in Milwaukee. Barnes was also endorsed by California Congressman Eric Swalwell, a Democrat who ran a brief campaign for president in 2019.

On June 29, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive Democrat from New York, encouraged people to turn out the vote for Barnes, along with Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman and Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, in order to expand the U.S. Supreme Court, end the filibuster and codify Roe v. Wade.

It’s hard to tell what factors will move Democratic voters in the August Senate primary, said Mordecai Lee, emeritus professor of urban planning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a former member of the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly.

Lee said voter turnout is likely to be low. The August ballot will also have a Republican primary race for governor; he said there isn’t likely to be any Democrats voting in the Republican contest and vice versa.

“Then that means that the base of the Democratic Party, which is purportedly farther to the left the way Bernie Sanders is, would be a benefit to a candidate like Barnes, as opposed to if the base of the Democratic Party were more centrist,” Lee said.

Lee said in the final weeks before the election on Aug. 9, the Democratic field could flood the airwaves with more campaign commercials.

“And to a certain extent, it’s a sad fact in both Wisconsin politics and American politics that money is the mother’s milk of success,” said Lee.

Sanders’ endorsement of Barnes did not go unnoticed by the Republican Party of Wisconsin. In an emailed statement, the party said the nods for Barnes by progressives “signal his strong support to push their radical socialist agendas in Wisconsin.”

“The endorsement from Senator Sanders proves that Bernie Bro Mandela Barnes will be a strong advocate for the fringe-left’s destructive policies in the U.S. Senate,” said Mike Marinella, the state Republican Party rapid response director. “Barnes and the radical policies he supports could not be more out-of-touch with Wisconsinites.”

The Barnes endorsement by Sanders was a setback for Democratic Senate candidate Tom Nelson. The Outagamie County Executive was a delegate for Sanders at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

The last polling from the Marquette University Law School in June showed Barnes with a slight edge over Lasry. Barnes drew support from 25 percent of Democratic voters in the survey, while Lasry garnered 21 percent. The spread between the two front-runners was within the poll’s margin of error.

More Wisconsin Perspectives. Give now.

Trustworthy news, world-class music and Wisconsin stories … made possible by people like you.