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'No contact': Wisconsin's Barnes and Johnson prepare for general election campaign defined by attack

(CNN)Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Democratic Lieutenant Governor Mandela Burns are politically at odds. I'm here.

But the two are similarly determined to define each other as they prepare for what could be one of the most-watched Senate elections in her 2022 cycle. are leveling their attacks. Get in touch with Wisconsin voters, claiming the other is not truly representative of the state's working class.

"The problem is that Ron Johnson has turned his back on working people. I have fought for working people throughout my career, even before I entered the office." Earlier, he made millions of dollars running a plastics manufacturer. "His wealth doesn't matter. It's the fact that he's super wealthy and out of touch."

Johnson's campaign refused to introduce him to CNN. But Johnson's campaign adviser previewed a very similar message.

"(Mr. Burns) doesn't know where the majority of states are," said adviser Ben Voerkel, some of the more liberal positions Mr. Burns has supported throughout his career. mentioned. "Mandela Burns often talks about his father working three shifts. Mandela Burns did nothing of the sort. He was a career political activist."

Johnson has already described Barnes as the Democratic Party's "most radical left-wing candidate," adding that "a radical left-wing senator from Wisconsin is not the solution." . Johnson recently called him a "progressive puppet trying to radically change America."

The attack, which took place ahead of Tuesday's Wisconsin Senate primary, looks already settled, but is a preview of what is likely to be a tough competition, with experts saying: That's because each campaign is trying to solidify its base voters in November, when it expects tens of millions of dollars to be spent on negative advertising.

Incumbent Johnson faces no major challenges after deciding to run for his third term. The senator, who promised to serve just one more term for him when he ran for re-election in 2016, hesitated for months over a third term, but finally decided because "America is in crisis." decided to run for election. Washington.

Barnes initially had significant major challengers, including Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry. But in his week last month, Burns' three main primary opponents — Russley of Wisconsin, State Treasurer Sarah Godolski, and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson — were all out of the race. Dropped out and endorsed the lieutenant governor, effectively ending the primary.

"I never imagined it would end like this," Burns told CNN. “For me, it shows how important it is to beat Ron Johnson and how important it is to expand the democratic majority. Because of the focus, Wisconsin represents yet another example of a high-stakes Senate election where the contrast between candidates matters, such as Republican Herschel Walker vs. Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock (Georgia). Republican Mehmet Oz v. Lieutenant John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, Republican Blake Masters of Arizona v. Democratic Senator Mark Kelly.

"Most Vulnerable Republican Incumbent."

Barnes' strategy is to define Johnson as a changed man, someone who went to Washington as a rebel candidate but then implicated himself as former President Donald Trump. to the leading Republican Party.

His attacks include Johnson's own admission that his 2017 tax bill, passed by Republicans in Washington, benefited his own company. His reported role in trying to push outfake electorsafter the 2020 election. And his most recent proposal proposed changing two popular social spending programs, Social Security and Medicare, from compulsory to discretionary spending.

"What we should do is put everything into discretionary spending so that everything can be evaluated so that we can fix problems or fix broken programs that are about to collapse. It's a change," Johnson said. Early this month.

Burns immediately jumped on this comment and used it to help Johnson understand what these programs meant for working-class people because of his personal wealth. claimed to make it impossible.

"If he wants to be anti-social, it's up to him," Burns told CNN. "That's a lot more extreme than wanting to give working families and people across Wisconsin a fair chance." Hit Johnson with an outsourcing job, using a senator's defense against a company that took jobs out of Wisconsin by posting an attack ad .

"Ron Johnson has nothing to do with Wisconsin," the ad reads.

Democrats are also preparing to paint Johnson as the candidate who has becomea promoter of conspiracy theories. That includes calling climate change “bullshit” and questioning efforts to get people vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Republican operatives working on the Senate campaign were in his image who acknowledged the impact of some of Johnson's comments. In a recent market poll for his law school, he had a favorable opinion, whereas 46% of Wisconsin voters viewed him unfavorably. He was 37%. However, one operative said the large expenditures by outside groups focused on inflation andJohnson's campaign adsfocused on laws that would allow for more experimental drug treatments. Some positive Johnson messages over the summer, such as, claimed to have done some rehab.

"His numbers are going in the right direction," said the operative, adding, "It's going to be a close fight."

Democrats believe that negative perceptions of Johnson are at the heart of plans to turn the general election into a senator referendum.

Amanda Sherman Beatty, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senate Election Committee, said, "Ron Johnson is arguably the most vulnerable Republican incumbent on the map.

"Defined by all these leftist positions."

Attacks on Barnes centered on accusations that he was using his time as a community to be too extreme for the state. A state legislator from a solid Democratic constituency,the``long-time leader''of the Working Family Party,, was a member of the opposed him.
Hits include connections to members of the "Squad," a group of liberal members of Congress who are often attacked by Republicans. A picture of him holding up his "Abolish ICE" T-shirt. And many other views the Johnson campaign considers, such as ending cash bail and supporting the Green New Deal, are "too extreme" for Wisconsin voters. Barnes notes thathe does not support the abolition of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service, but that "the concerns and problems people have should be addressed so that fair and comprehensive immigration reform can be achieved." , will support addressing the challenges.” system. "

"These are all positions that could lead to applause at Working Family Party rallies and the endorsement of the AOC, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but the state "Overall, where is that? The state's 50+1 sits," Voelkel said.

One of the problems Burns' campaign will have to face is that polls show that many Wisconsin voters don't know enough about him to have an opinion. That's the fact.

"Within the state, Barnes is less well-known than Johnson," said Charles Franklin, a pollster at the Market Law School,citing a recent poll. said he found more than 50% of the Democratic primaries. Voters didn't know enough to form an opinion on the lieutenant governor. "This is an opportunity for Johnson's side to intervene and try to define Burns."

Already preparing to cast Burns for not keeping pace with most voters.

"He will be defined by every left-wing position he has taken in the past," said Jack, a spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC focused on Senate elections. Pandle said. "Voters will be informed a lot in the coming months, and it will be the first information they will get about Barnes."

"I tried to say the same thing about Tammy Baldwin," said the member, who won another state seat in 2012 and was re-elected in 2018.

"People like Ron Johnson will lie anything they can think of to cool down their bad behavior.

"Cool down Before, we were polarized.”

At issue among Wisconsin experts is years of polarization and a very tense After the election, is it convincing enough? State voters want the general election to be more than a base-focused race.

Wisconsin has been a battleground state for years. When Trump won his 2016 election, he was a Republican for the first time since his 1984 election.Biden won the state in 2020, but the state has had longtime Republican governors, including Scott Walker from 2011 to 2019, and Republicans control both houses of Congress. of the state legislature.

Wisconsin Democratic operative Joe Zepecchi said he was ``polarizing before he cooled down'', saying that the 2011 and his 2012 battle for union rights had led to Donald's arrival. long ago led to the state becoming deeply polarized. Trump. “So it’s kind of a ballgame that the segment of swinging voters is shrinking. Sure, the political environment may be bad, but the Republican brand is rotten by those voters.”

This is why political watchers such as Franklin expect the contest to be inundated with negative advertising, with both sides launching campaigns that "reflect the polarization we've had for 12 years." going.

Democrats are confident that if they can turn the race into a referendum on Johnson, there are enough votes that have backed him in the past that they are ready to accept the alternative.

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wickler said, "There is absolutely a world of ticket splitters, a world of compelling voters, and a world of people whose outcomes can happen." rice field.

But Democrats face a difficult national environment, with President Joe Biden's poll numbers dropping and voters across the country skeptical of Democratic leadership in Washington.

With this in mind, Burns argued that it would not be the president, but Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, who would have the most direct influence on the election. Evers himself is seeking re-election. Although he didn't make it to the primary, he will likely face tough competition against anyone who had a tough run in Tuesday's Republican primary.

"This is a very Wisconsin-focused campaign," he said,citing a recent poll of his 48 voters in Wisconsin. % approved Evers. "I think people know the work we've done here in the state. This race will not be decided by what people think about national politics."