Ron Johnson Says He’s Open To Multiple Debates With Mandela Barnes

Alexandur Shur

Wisconsin State Journal

September 11, 2022

WISCONSIN DELLS — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said he’s open to debating Democratic U.S. Senate nominee and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes more than once before the general election, as he said Barnes was hiding from voters and the press. 

“Happy to” debate Barnes more than once, Johnson said Saturday. “Whatever it takes so Wisconsinites understand the truth about Mandela Barnes, as well as, quite honestly, so they can understand the truth about me and what my position on the issues are.”

Johnson’s team has spoken with three potential hosts and sponsors and is working on details, Johnson spokesperson Ben Voelkel said. Voelkel said there aren’t any firm commitments yet.

In response, Barnes spokesperson Maddy McDaniel said, “The Lt. Governor looks forward to holding Ron Johnson accountable on the debate stage for his attacks on Social Security and Medicare.”

The Oshkosh Republican’s comments came after he gave a half-hour speech at a Republican rally, where he derided the influx of fentanyl in America, high inflation, crime and transgender women entering women’s bathrooms.

Johnson was joined Saturday by most of the state’s top Republican statewide candidates, including gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels and attorney general nominee Eric Toney, as well as top Republican operatives and former Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Much of the Oshkosh Republican’s speech appeared to have a defensive tone as he responded to the tens of millions of dollars in negative advertising Democratic groups are spending against him. He said on Saturday that he wanted to save Social Security and Medicare, programs that Democrats say he wants to eliminate. The topic gained nationwide attention after Johnson said he wanted to move Social Security and Medicare from mandatory to discretionary spending programs, which would require congressional budgetary authorization every year. Johnson has since repeatedly denied wanting to eliminate the programs.

“Listen, lies, character assassination, the politics of personal destruction, people engage in it because it works,” Johnson said, explaining why he was defending his past words and actions to dedicated Republican voters. “I’ve got to talk to Republicans who hear all these lies, and don’t hear them being corrected by the media.”

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes was leading Johnson 51% to 44% among registered voters in mid-August, according to the Marquette Law School Poll. 

Since the primary, Johnson and national Republican groups have spent millions of dollars to run negative ads against Barnes. A new Marquette poll coming out Wednesday could reveal whether that strategy appears to be driving Wisconsinites away from Barnes, whom 41% of votes didn’t know or had no opinion of in the August Marquette poll. 

The event was one of the few times since the August primary where the state’s top Republican congressional and statewide candidates gathered together at an event open to the press.

Counting down the days, hours and minutes until the Nov. 8 election, party leaders and candidates focused on the stakes at hand — the desire for political “normalcy,” in the words of Republican Party of Wisconsin chair Paul Farrow — and called for continued boots-on-the-ground support.

“Nine times in this century, we have had statewide races decided by less than 30,000 votes,” Republican operative Brian Schimming said to over 100 Republicans Saturday. “What that does is speak to the importance of what we do.”

Thompson said the upcoming election teeters on whether Wisconsinites want to continue going to the left or “bring it back to the center and start looking to the future.”

Michels said the country was on a “slippery slope toward socialism,” saying the leftward move was cloaked behind the group Black Lives Matter, critical race theory and the movement seeking to defund police. He also called for Republican voters to come together after a hard-fought gubernatorial primary.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had 45% support among respondents, compared with 43% for Michels in August’s Marquette poll. But 7% of respondents supported independent candidate Joan Beglinger, who since dropped out and endorsed Michels.

Read the full article from Wisconsin State Journal here.