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Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes Announces US Senate Campaign

Barnes Joins Growing Democratic Field For 2022 Senate Election

Signs that say "Mandela" on them are held up by supporters as Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes takes the stage.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes kicks off his campaign for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, at an event in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is running for U.S. Senate.

Barnes, 34, joins a growing field of Democrats running for the seat currently held by Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. Johnson hasn’t announced yet whether he will seek reelection in 2022.

The lieutenant governor was elected to his current office in 2018, alongside Gov. Tony Evers. He was the first Black lieutenant governor in Wisconsin and the second Black person elected to statewide office. Prior to serving as lieutenant governor, Barnes was a state Assembly lawmaker from 2013-2017. He made a failed bid for state Senate in 2016.

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Barnes announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate in a tweet on Tuesday morning, ahead of an afternoon media event in Milwaukee.

At the Milwaukee event, the lieutenant governor spoke about being born in the city’s 53206 zip code, which has high poverty rates and one of the nation’s highest percentages of incarcerated Black men.

People from where I’m from, people from this part of the world, aren’t expected to make it to the state Capitol, and that’s if they’re expected to make it at all,” Barnes said. “And that’s something we have to be committed to changing.”

Barnes said, if elected, he would make racial justice and inequality major focuses of his time in office.

“I’ve taken on inequality, and I’ve fought for equal opportunity, and I can guarantee you that’s the fight I’ll continue in the United States Senate,” he said.

Barnes also pledged to push for higher wages, environmental protections, voting protections, health care accessibility and high speed internet access.

During his time in the lieutenant governor’s office, Barnes has focused on issues including climate change and racial disparities. Under the state constitution, the lieutenant governor’s office has few official responsibilities, except stepping in for the governor in the case of his or her death, resignation, removal or debilitating illness.

Evers issued a supportive statement of Barnes’ candidacy on Tuesday morning, but stopped short of endorsing him.

“Mandela Barnes is a good friend and has been a great partner working to address challenges facing our state, and I’ve always said I would support any decision Mandela made about how best to serve the people of Wisconsin,” Evers said. “At the end of the day, Wisconsin deserves better than someone like Ron Johnson, who’s chosen to embrace reckless conspiracies that have risked public health and jeopardized our state’s economic recovery. We’re lucky to have strong Democratic candidates who are running to send him packing, and I look forward to supporting Wisconsin Democrats’ choice to take on Ron Johnson in 2022.”

Barnes’ candidacy for U.S. Senate means he cannot be on the ballot for lieutenant governor in 2022. His departure from that election is expected to spur several Democratic lieutenant governor campaign announcements in the coming months. Evers announced his reelection campaign earlier this summer. In Wisconsin, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run independently, not as a pair or “ticket.” However, Evers could make clear who he favors in the race.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) was quick to criticize Barnes on Tuesday, referencing questions about whether he misrepresented finishing his undergraduate degree at Alabama A&M University.

“Barnes should fit right in in what’s clearly going to be one of the nastiest primaries in the country,” said NRSC spokesperson Lizzie Litzow in a prepared statement. “While Wisconsin Democrats trip over themselves to prove who’s more liberal, Senator Ron Johnson continues to work hard to bring common sense to Washington and fight for the people of Wisconsin.”

Other announced Democratic candidates for the Senate seat include state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, state Sen. Chris Larson, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, Wausau physician Gillian Battino and former state Senate candidate Adam Murphy. Steven Olikara, founder of the Millennial Action Project, has formed an exploratory committee, but hasn’t made an official campaign announcement.

The partisan primaries for the seat will be held in Aug. 2022.

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