MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin Treasurer Sarah Godlewski dropped out of the state's Democratic U.S. Senate primary Friday, the third candidate to bow out this week, making Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes the clear frontrunner to face Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
The race in battleground Wisconsin, which Donald Trump narrowly won in 2016 but lost by a nearly equal number of votes in 2020, could determine which party holds majority control in the 50-50 Senate. Johnson, who had not commented on the two other drop-outs, weighed in after Godlewski left the race.
“Showing their lack of respect for voters and the democratic process, the power brokers of the Democrat party have now cleared the field for their most radical left candidate,” Johnson tweeted. “Socialist policies have produced this mess, & a radical left Senator from Wisconsin is not the solution.”
Barnes, 35, would be the first Black senator from Wisconsin if elected. He served two terms in the Legislature before being elected lieutenant governor in 2018. Barnes opted against seeking a second term with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to instead run for Senate.
Godlewski’s decision to leave the race came after Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson dropped out Monday and Barnes’ top rival, Alex Lasry, followed suit Wednesday. Godlewski and Nelson had been trailing Barnes and Lasry by double digits in public polling.
Godlewski, the only woman in the race, made fighting for abortion rights the center of her campaign.
“I started my campaign a little over a year ago with the intent of defeating Ron Johnson,” Godlewski said at a Madison-area day care where she was joined by Barnes on Friday. “And I will tell you, that has not changed except for how we are going to do it.”
Several lower-tier candidates who were polling in the low single digits remain in the Aug. 9 primary, and even those who dropped out will still be on the ballot. In-person absentee voting began this week.
Barnes has emphasized his middle-class upbringing as the son of a public school teacher and factory worker, both union members. Barnes paid no income tax and was on the state’s Medicaid program while running for lieutenant governor in 2018.
He has secured some big-name liberal endorsements in the primary, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee that works to get Republicans elected, immediately went on the attack and said Democrats would regret having Barnes as the nominee, noting the Sanders endorsement. The group also pointed to a picture of Barnes holding an “Abolish ICE” T-shirt; his supportive comments about the Green New Deal and Medicaid for all; and a 2020 tweet in which he said, “Defunding the police only dreams of being as radical as a Donald Trump pardon.”
Barnes deflected a question Friday about whether he would be a stronger candidate had his Democratic rivals had attacked him in the primary like Johnson and Republicans will now.
“What’s most important is that we are experiencing a unity that has not been seen before,” Barnes said. “In this state, we set out out of the gate to build a broad coalition. We are doing just that. This is about uniting the party. And I would say that we are more united than we’ve ever been before.”