Lt. Gov. Barnes Leads Crowded U.S. Senate Race; Three More Candidates Join Third District Primary

Next year, Wisconsin will host at least two key congressional races affecting the political balance of power in Washington, D.C, where the Democratic Party holds a narrow majority in the U.S. House (220-212) and the Democratic and Republican caucuses are tied 50-50 in the U.S. Senate. With partisan control of the U.S. Congress on the line in 2022, both races are expected to attract significant resources and attention from state and national groups on both sides.

One of Wisconsin’s two seats in the U.S. Senate will be on the ballot statewide in November 2022. The seat is currently held by Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who has yet to announce whether he will seek a third term. Sen. Johnson has continued to fundraise; in his latest campaign finance statement, which were due for federal campaigns on October 15, Sen. Johnson reported raising $906,000 during the third quarter of 2021, ending September with $2.3 million on hand.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes (D) appears to be leading a crowded Democratic primary field for U.S. Senate. Other declared candidates include Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, Wausau radiologist Gillian Battino, and Millennial Action Project founder and activist Steven Olikara.

Recent federal fundraising reports showed that Lt. Gov. Barnes’ campaign has raised over $1.1 million since he joined the race in July. State Treasurer Godlewski reported raising $1.36 million in the third quarter of 2021, including $1 million of her own money. Lasry reported raising $302,000, while Nelson reported raising $223,000. Battino and Olikara reported raising about $100,000 each.

A couple of candidates have already picked up endorsements from notable national Democrats. Lt. Gov. Barnes has been endorsed by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), while State Treasurer Godlewski has been endorsed by former UW-Madison chancellor and Florida congresswoman Donna Shalala. Governor Tony Evers (D) and most other Wisconsin Democrats have not made endorsements in the primary. State Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), who was also in the running for the nomination, announced on August 3 that he was suspending his campaign and endorsing the lieutenant governor.

If Sen. Johnson chooses not to seek reelection, Republican candidates who may step into the race include U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher, of Green Bay, and Kevin Nicholson, a veteran and conservative activist who unsuccessfully sought his party’s U.S. Senate nomination in 2018.

Wisconsin’s other U.S. Senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, won reelection in 2018; her seat will be on the ballot again in 2024.

Three Candidates Join Democratic Primary for the Third Congressional District

Three more candidates have announced their 2022 campaigns for Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District, which will be open for the first time in 26 years. On October 13, Rebecca Cooke announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination for the seat. Cooke owns a boutique in Eau Claire and serves on the board of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). She also founded a nonprofit that provides start-up capital and technical assistance to local female entrepreneurs.

U.S. Navy veteran Brett Knudsen, of Holmen, and Deb McGrath, of Menomonie, have also entered the race for the Democratic nomination. McGrath is a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency and served in the U.S. Army for five years. Her father, Al Baldus, represented the Third District for three terms and also served in the Wisconsin Assembly.

The three new candidates join State Senator Brad Pfaff (D-La Crosse), who announced his candidacy on October 4. Sen. Pfaff was elected to the Wisconsin Senate in 2020 after serving in Gov. Evers’ administration. He served for about ten months as the governor’s first secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) until the Senate voted to reject his nomination in November 2019.

Incumbent Representative Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) announced in August that he will not seek reelection next year. Rep. Kind has represented the third district since 1997. On October 14, Rep. Kind announced his endorsement of Sen. Pfaff in the Democratic primary. Before Sen. Pfaff entered state government service, he worked for Rep. Kind.

So far, Derrick Van Orden is the only Republican to enter the race. Van Orden is a retired Navy Seal and business consultant who ran for the same seat in 2020 and was defeated by Rep. Kind by 51.3 to 48.6 percent. In April 2021, Van Orden announced that he would run again next year. Van Orden has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump (R) and former U.S. Representative Sean Duffy (R).

No Republicans have publicly discussed challenging Van Orden at this time. Democrats who are reportedly considering a run include Senator Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick), Representatives Jody Emerson (D-Eau Claire) and Katrina Shankland (R-Stevens Point), and Eau Claire Alderman Andrew Werthmann.

Currently, five of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts are represented by Republicans, and three by Democrats.

Read more of Hamilton’s coverage of the races here and here.