GOP Sen. Ron Johnson Projected Winner in Wisconsin Senate Race

Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes did not concede defeat early Wednesday. He planned a noon news conference in his hometown of Milwaukee.

FILE - Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) partakes in a joint briefing with Sens. Christopher Murphy and John Barrasso after their meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, Feb. 14, 2020.
Yevhen Kotenko/Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has been re-elected to a third term in the battleground state of Wisconsin, NBC News projects, defeating Democrat Mandela Barnes.

Johnson declared victory Wednesday, saying the "race is over."

“The votes are in,” Johnson said in an email statement. “There is no path mathematically for Lt. Gov. Barnes to overcome his 27,374 vote deficit. This race is over.”

Barnes did not concede defeat early Wednesday. He planned a noon news conference in his hometown of Milwaukee.

“No matter what anyone says, we are committed to making sure every vote is counted,” Barnes’ campaign spokesperson Maddy McDaniel said earlier Wednesday morning. “We will wait and see what the Wisconsin voters have decided after all their voices are heard.”

Johnson, in an interview on WISN-AM, accused Barnes of refusing to accept the outcome of the race after he had promised earlier in the campaign he would.

“It’s just crystal clear he has no path to victory here," Johnson said.

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The race was one of a handful of tight Senate contests across the country that could determine which party holds majority control.

Johnson said he expected Republicans to do better in the midterm election, saying Democratic policies are “not good for America.”

“I’m surprised in Wisconsin my race was this close, I am," Johnson said.

Barnes, the current lieutenant governor, was seeking to become the first Black senator from Wisconsin. Johnson was running for a third term.

Johnson has been a top target for Democrats in swing state Wisconsin. He was first elected in 2010, as part of the tea party wave, and won reelection in 2016.

Johnson is one of former President Donald Trump's biggest backers. He ran this campaign trying to paint Barnes as being weak on crime with a thin resume who will be a rubber stamp for the national Democratic agenda.

Barnes, like many Democrats nationally, tried to make the race about abortion, highlighting Johnson’s long support for overturning Roe v. Wade, and arguing that the millionaire Johnson was out of touch with the concerns of the middle class.

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Barnes went after him over a series of provocative statements that coincided with Johnson's drift to the right during the Trump era, including Johnson's disbelief in climate change; attempting to deliver fake Republican Electoral College ballots to then-Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6, 2021; saying that he would have been more fearful during that insurrection if the U.S. Capitol invaders had been Black Lives Matter protesters; and advocating for unproven and untested alternative treatments for COVID-19, such as mouthwash.

Barnes, in a debate, said Johnson wanted to “lie and distract and hide from his own record.”

Johnson called for the end of guaranteed money for Medicare and Social Security, two popular programs that American politicians usually steer clear from, calling it the only way to keep them viable. Biden himself went on the attack over those remarks, saying Johnson wants “to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every year.”

Johnson portrayed Barnes as a rubber stamp of Biden and Democratic congressional leaders, saying their policies have led to high inflation and gas prices.

Barnes spent much of the race on the defensive explaining his earlier positions before he was a Senate candidate in support of ending cash bail and diverting funding for police departments. Barnes, 35, played up his middle class background, contrasting himself with Johnson, a 67-year-old millionaire who voted for a Trump tax bill that benefitted some of his wealthiest donors.

Roughly half of Wisconsin voters say the economy is the most pressing issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 3,200 voters in the state.

Nearly all the state’s voters say inflation was a factor in how they cast their ballots. Roughly half named it as the single most important factor. Republicans were more likely to capture those voters, with about two-thirds of them casting ballots for Johnson.

Wisconsin voters say their families are being hit by the economy personally, with roughly a third saying they are falling behind. Those voters were also more likely to cast a ballot for Johnson.

Nearly 6 in 10 Wisconsinites said they are holding steady financially. In the Senate race, those voters were split between Johnson and Barnes.

Among those who named inflation as a factor in how they voted, nearly half say the rising costs of groceries and food were most important.

Nearly half of voters also named party control of the Senate as the single most important factor in the decision-making at the polls, and nearly all voters said it was at least a factor. Those voters were split between Barnes and Johnson.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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