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Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes concedes US Senate race to Republican incumbent Ron Johnson

Johnson wins race by narrow lead of about 27,000 votes

Mandela Barnes concedes to Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson
Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes concedes to Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson at a news conference Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in Milwaukee. Morry Gash/AP Photo

Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has conceded to Republican incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson in one of several key races determining control of the U.S. Senate.

The Associated Press called the race for Johnson at 11:46 a.m. as the senator led Barnes by about 27,000 votes Wednesday morning. Johnson had declared victory earlier in the morning with a slim 1-point lead over Barnes. A short time later, several national media outlets like CNN, NBC News, and CBS News projected Johnson as the winner.

Early Wednesday afternoon, with 99 percent of the vote tallied, Johnson led Barnes by a margin of 51.2 percent to 47.8 percent — or 26,920 votes.

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In a statement, Johnson said there was no way to overcome the gap in votes.

“Truth has prevailed over lies and the politics of personal destruction. I want to thank my family and everyone who supported me and worked so hard to save this U.S. Senate seat. I will do everything I can to help make things better for Wisconsinites and to heal and unify our country,” said Johnson.

In Milwaukee, Barnes thanked his supporters, friends, and family at Sherman Phoenix Marketplace.

“Obviously, this is not the speech that I wanted to give, but I simply cannot thank you all enough for being with me every step of the way,” said Barnes.

The race was one of the most expensive election contests in the country, according to a firm that tracks political spending. The U.S. Senate race in the battleground state of Wisconsin was among closely watched contests on the national scene as Republicans hoped to gain seats in the U.S. House and Senate.

National media reports say the red wave that Republicans hoped for in this year’s mid-term elections has been downgraded to more of a trickle. Democrats won or held onto key seats, including John Fetterman’s win over Republican Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. But Johnson’s reelection keeps Republicans’ hopes of gaining control of the Senate alive, with races still undecided in Georgia, Nevada and Arizona.

Talking to supporters in Milwaukee Wednesday, Barnes said it was difficult to believe it’s been more than a year-and-a-half since launching a campaign against Johnson.

Mandela Barnes concedes to Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson
Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes hugs Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., after conceding to Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson at a news conference Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in Milwaukee. Morry Gash/AP Photo

“I got in this race because I believe that the American dream — the same one that gave me the opportunity to stand here as your lieutenant governor — is a dream worth protecting and a dream worth fighting for,” said Barnes. “I believe that our working people, our family farmers, and our children’s futures are absolutely worth fighting for.”

Despite losing the race, Barnes vowed that doesn’t mean their work is done.

“I will continue to work to help make this state into what I know it can be,” said Barnes. “That’s because I still know better is possible.”

Johnson accused Barnes of refusing to accept the outcome of the race in an interview with conservative talk radio station WISN-AM.

“It’s just crystal clear he has no path to victory here,” Johnson told the radio station.

Johnson added that he was surprised the race was so close. He said Republicans are baffled that a red wave didn’t materialize.

“The question I keep asking is, how bad does it have to get economically, national security-wise, before Democrat voters wake up to the fact that the policies pushed by their elected officials are disasters for this country,” said Johnson to WISN-AM.

A former plastics company executive from Oshkosh, Johnson was first elected in 2010 after he defeated former Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold. Johnson promised to serve just two terms. On Jan. 9, he announced a run for a third term, saying his decision was based on a belief that “America is in peril.”

Johnson has been a controversial figure in politics for lauding drugs like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin as early treatment options during the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s also been skeptical of COVID-19 vaccines, making false or misleading claims about the shots.

Johnson is also linked to a scheme to deliver fake electoral ballots to former Vice President Mike Pence, which is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. Text messages from Johnson’s former chief of staff show his office tried to send fake ballots to Pence on Jan. 6, 2021.

During the campaign, polls from the Marquette University Law School showed most respondents in Wisconsin had a negative view of Johnson. In the most recent poll, 43 percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of Johnson while 46 percent had an unfavorable view.

Barnes won an uncontested U.S. Senate Democratic primary in August, leading by 7 points early on in the race. Near the end of the race, Johnson’s campaign was leading by 2 points.

Editor’s note: WPR’s Rich Kremer contributed to this story.

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