Mandela Barnes Enters Senate Race
Long-rumored run by Lt. Governor becomes official and targets Ron Johnson.
Wisconsin’s worst-kept secret is officially out of the bag. Tuesday morning, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes formally announced his entry into the 2022 U.S. Senate race.
Barnes, 34, is the eighth candidate to declare for the Democratic primary and might not be the last, but his candidacy has been rumored almost from the moment he was sworn in alongside Governor Tony Evers in early 2019. Democratic observers have previously told Urban Milwaukee that Barnes will become the front-runner in the Democratic primary for the seat held by two-term incumbent Republican Ron Johnson.
The Milwaukee native will not be able to run for reelection alongside Evers under state election law as the two statewide races occur simultaneously. But foregoing one job to attempt to land another is a familiar Barnes move.
Barnes successfully challenged fellow Democrat Jason Fields for a Wisconsin State Assembly seat in 2012, but gave up that seat in 2016 to challenge incumbent Democratic Lena Taylor for her state senate seat. He was unsuccessful in that move, but spent the next two years laying the groundwork for his run for lieutenant governor.
Like other candidates, Barnes is positioning himself against Johnson.
“Hard-working families deserve every opportunity, but politicians like Senator Ron Johnson aren’t delivering. Instead of changing our dreams, we need to change the game,” said Barnes in sharing a video on social media.
Johnson has yet to decide if he will run again. The race has been rated as a tossup by the respected Cook Political Report.
Barnes is shown repeatedly running in his campaign video. An avid runner, he is an active participant in Social X‘s Forget Everything and Run group (F.E.A.R. MKE) that was profiled in Runner’s World magazine and an eight-minute feature segment on NBC’s Today Show. Barnes was included in both of those features. The group is focused on creating a safe space for people of color to run in Milwaukee.
Barnes has had missteps since becoming lieutenant governor. It was revealed he hadn’t graduated from Alabama A&M University, which he blamed on a technical issue and corrected in 2020. As part of his move to Madison, it was also revealed he failed to pay his most recent property tax bill in Milwaukee and had $108 in unpaid parking tickets, both issues which were rectified.
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson was the first to formally declare, followed by Wisconsin Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, radiologist Gillian Battino and Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry. They’ve since been joined by State Senator Chris Larson, Milwaukee attorney Peter Peckarsky and Franklin software entrepreneur Adam Murphy. Steven Olikara, head of the Millennial Action Project, created an exploratory committee, a precursor to filing to run.