Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Lasry’s Quitting Race Raises Questions

Did Democrats miss a chance to vet Mandela Barnes in primary for US Senate?

By - Aug 1st, 2022 03:04 pm
Alex Lasry. Photo from Lasry for Wisconsin.

Alex Lasry. Photo from Lasry for Wisconsin.

The decision by Alex Lasry last week to withdraw from the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate was, to say the least, quite a surprise. Here is a guy who had spent some $15 million on his campaign, was in second place in the polls, and had the ability, through his own wealth and that of his billionaire father, to continue spending heavily. Why not keep going?

Lasry explained that he would have had to run negative ads against the Democratic front runner, Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, and didn’t want to do that. It was the same explanation that Kevin Nicholson gave for withdrawing from the Republican primary for governor, but that was very difficult to believe, as I’ve previously written. The more likely explanation is that his main financial backer, Richard Uihlein, pulled the plug on Nicholson’s funding.

Similarly, there is much more to Lasry’s withdrawal than simply being a good guy who didn’t want to go negative. In theory, Lasry was the outsider candidate, the wealthy “businessman” who didn’t need funding from lobbyists looking for favors. In reality he was greatly constrained by his tight connection to the Milwaukee Bucks, which likely figured in his decision to quit.

Lasry’s father Marc Lasry is one of three main owners of the Milwaukee Bucks. Alex Lasry was being paid $300,000 as an executive. He was also gifted a $50 million trust, which includes a stake in the team that grew significantly in value thanks to a taxpayer subsidy of at least $700 million for a new arena that helped the franchise grow four-fold in value.

But with that windfall comes some political complications. Democrats in the Legislature wouldn’t support the subsidy unless the Bucks management agreed to negotiate with the unions and support the idea of a $15 minimum wage for workers. More recently the Bucks have asked the city to support a plan to build a new music venue on land where the old Bradley Center stood, in partnership with FPC Live. And the team and the city jointly built a parking garage which will be used for a new hotel the team is building.

Some readers may recall that back in the early 1990s then-Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig proposed that the team would pay to build a new arena. Why would he want to do this when nearly every other baseball stadium in America was subsidized? Because Selig hated dealing with local officials who oversaw County Stadium, insiders suggested. Ultimately he decided the team could not afford this approach and was forced to deal with a bevy of local and state officials, some of whom he later condemned.

Alex Lasry’s connection to the Bucks was dramatically repeated in his TV ads and mailers, which bragged about creating thousands of jobs to build the new arena, and supporting union jobs and decent wages. He also went to some events carrying the Bucks’ championship trophy. Everyone in the state heard, over and over, about his connection to the team. So how would it look if he launched a scorched earth campaign against the state’s current Lt. Governor? What would that do to the image of the Bucks? How would the Bucks management, including his father, a longtime Democratic insider and campaign donor, feel about such an attack?

Moreover, Lasry’s campaign was run by Mike Tate, a longtime Wisconsin Democratic Party insider and Lasry’s spokesperson was Nation Consulting, which has handled the campaigns of many Democrats, including numerous Milwaukee Common Council members, Mayor Cavalier Johnson, County Executive David Crowley and a Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, Alexia Sabor. The idea of a divisive Democratic campaign might not have thrilled these folks, either.

Lasry’s decision resulted in a kind of coronation for Barnes, as it followed the withdrawal of Tom Nelson and preceded Sarah Godlewski‘s decision to quit the race. Barnes has just announced he received 21,000 campaign donations totaling $1.1 million in the past week.

But the result has been a primary that did no vetting of the front-runner. Back in December Jessica Taylor, a Senate elections editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said this: Republicans are, I think, salivating to face Barnes. They argue that hes too progressive for the state.” A GOP insider tells me the party is “drooling” at the prospect of running against Barnes.

There is no doubt Barnes has some baggage. He may face Republican ads claiming he favors defunding police, though his position hasn’t been that sweeping: he has called for taking money from over-bloated budgets in police departments” and spending it on neighborhood services. And there is a tweet of Barnes holding up a t-shirt with the slogan Abolish ICE” that may figure in an ad. (Barnes has said he does not favor this.) And Barnes was quoted saying “The United States of America is the most wealthy, is the most powerful nation on Earth… because of forced labor on stolen land.”

Would it have helped if Barnes was vetted on these issues by a Democratic opponent like Lasry? Or would it merely have reinforced likely ads to come from incumbent Republican Ron Johnson? Negative primaries have often come back to haunt both parties.

To Dan Adams, a Democrat who oversees Milwaukee Works, a nonprofit that periodically polls on local policy issues and candidates, Lasry’s decision to bow out of the campaign was a loss for the party. “Primaries that dont devolve into a mud-throwing contest could actually help a political party — providing a dry run for ground game, voter ID and turn out. Lasry’s quitting robbed the party of this test.”

But it may be that Lasry’s only chance to win was a mud throwing contest, which would have also stuck to him and the Milwaukee Bucks team he represented.

Beyond the big lift Lasry’s decision was for Barnes, it was good news for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch, because a non-competitive Democratic primary could mean more voters will vote in the Republican primary. Given the unpopularity of Ron Johnson (13% of Republicans, 12% of those who lean Republican and 43% of independents had an unfavorable view of him in the last Marquette poll), some voters may have been tempted to vote in the Democratic primary to pick the candidate they thought had the best chance of beating Johnson. That might have been particularly true in the WOW counties of Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee, where many Republican voters abandoned Donald Trump in 2020.

And Kleefisch can’t beat her opponent Tim Michels, some have predicted, without winning big in the WOW counties. Right now her campaign is very glad — perhaps more than Barnes — that Lasry dropped out of the race.

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7 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Lasry’s Quitting Race Raises Questions”

  1. MilwMike1 says:

    Big money dominates almost all forms of electability. I liked Thomas Nelson and before him, Kathleen Vinehout. Both had fresh ideas and weren’t a rehash of the same old thing. Both also drew a “who?” when I talked to friends about them. We all say we hate the establishment candidates but that’s all we vote for. No one in power is going to change election laws that saw to their election victory.

  2. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Lasry dropped out of the race because Wisconsin Republicans planned to swing over to the Democratic ticket and vote for Lasry in the Primary… That would have given Ron Johnson an automatic win in the general election… Not only that, but Lasry would have dragged every Democrat on the ballot down the toilet with him.

    Joe Biden’s and Nancy Pelosi’s unpopularity will probably drag all the Democrats down the toilet, no matter who’s on the ballot. All they do is start wars and drop bombs on defenseless men, women, and children.

  3. bigb_andb says:

    NeiWiederKrieg, Democrats rigged elections. Why would Republicans vote for Lasry? Why do Republicans even vote for that matter.

  4. ringo muldano says:

    NWK – although vampires can’t see themselves in the mirror and a$$holes think they don’t $tink, but think that might give too much credit to rCons.

  5. NieWiederKrieg says:

    @ringo muldano –

    Nancy Pelosi is the Wicked Witch of the West… She hops on her broom and flies all over the world, dropping bombs on every man, woman, and child she sees…

  6. Duane says:

    This article with all its “gossiping about politics” was a real drag.

    “Jessica Taylor, a Senate elections editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said this: “Republicans are, I think, salivating to face Barnes. They argue that he’s too progressive for the state.” Whatever.

    To Dan Adams, a Democrat who oversees Milwaukee Works, “Primaries that don’t devolve into a mud-throwing contest could actually help a political party — providing a dry run for ground game, voter ID and turn out. Lasry’s quitting robbed the party of this test.” If you say so buddy.

  7. Mingus says:

    Voters have had to face a unending barrage of inflammatory, acrimonious tv commercials with Republicans attacking Evers and their candidates for Governor attacking each other with even great malice. After several months of this, many voters could simply ignore any attacks on Mandela Barnes as just more irrelevant political hyperbole.

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