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Wisconsin's race for U.S. Senate: Your guide to the 2022 election & the candidates

Mandela Barnes & Ron Johnson
Barnes / Johnson
Democratic Lt Gov. Mandela Barnes is running against Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin.

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What do Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators do?

The U.S. Senate is made up of 100 senators, with two senators representing each state. Senators write and vote on laws that govern every state in the U.S., and decide how federal tax dollars are spent.

What’s at stake?

This election will decide which party controls the U.S. Senate and Congress. If Democrats retain control of the Senate and add to their number of seats, it could create an easier pathway for legislation to be enacted. A Democratic majority could ensure that conservative legislation — like a total abortion ban in the U.S. — is unable to be enacted. If Republicans gain control of the Senate, they could make it impossible for President Joe Biden to enact legislation, but would still face difficulty enacting their own legislation, putting the U.S. Congress in stalemate.

Who are the candidates?

Mandela Barnes

Mandela Barnes
Mandela Barnes
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat, is running for U.S. Senate

Biography: Mandela Barnes is currently Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor and was elected in 2018. He started his career as a community organizer and policy advocate, before being elected to Wisconsin's state Assembly in 2013. Barnes grew up in Milwaukee, attended Milwaukee Public Schools and graduated from Alabama A&M. He is the first Black man to be elected to a statewide office and if elected, would become Wisconsin's first Black U.S. Senator.

Party: Democrat

Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | TikTok

Select endorsements: Congressional Black Caucus, Move On, End Citizens United, AFT MATC Local 212, National Asian American PAC. Additional endorsements listed on Barnes' website.

Ron Johnson

Ron Johnson
Ron Johnson
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is running for reelection.

Biography: Ron Johnson is the senior U.S. Senator from Wisconsin and was first elected in 2011. Before entering politics, Johnson was given a job at his family’s plastics company PACUR. Johnson became CEO in the mid-1980s, and he remained at PACUR until he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010. Johnson grew up in Mankato, Minnesota and attended public schools, ultimately earning a degree at the University of Minnesota.

Party: Republican

Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Select endorsements: Wisconsin Tavern League, Milwaukee Police Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, National Border Patrol Council. Additional endorsements can be found on Johnson's website.

Where do candidates stand on key issues?


Barnes: Barnes supports cutting middle-class taxes and expanding family tax credits, while raising taxes on the upper-class. He supports policies that would encourage manufacturers to relocate to the U.S., so the nation isn’t as vulnerable to supply-chain problems and global crises that are currently causing inflation.

Johnson: Johnson supports energy independence through increasing domestic oil and natural gas drilling. He believes the federal government should spend less money, but has been unclear about where these cuts would be made. He has suggested cutting funds to social safety net programs and wants to put an end to guaranteed money for Social Security and Medicare, proposing that each program should need annual approval from Congress. Johnson says he supports these programs by questioning spending on other, unspecified federal programs.

Public safety

Barnes: Barnes supports direct investment into communities that could prevent crime by supporting affordable childcare and attracting businesses to under-resourced areas. He supports funding training programs for police officers to help them deal with sensitive crises and give them access to social workers. Barnes believes in holding police accountable when they commit crimes.

Johnson: Johnson has made crime reduction a central point of his campaign, but has provided few details on how he plans to curb crime. Although he has decried the “defund the police” movement, he recently voted against a bill that allocated $10 billion to support law enforcement. His solution is “renewed faith, stronger families, and more supportive communities,” and says school choice is his “public policy prescription” for solving rising crime.

Gun policy

Barnes: Barnes wants to expand background checks to all gun sales and supports red flag laws (also known as extreme risk laws). He doesn’t support arming teachers in the classroom.

Johnson: Johnson doesn’t support universal background checks for people purchasing weapons. Although he says he supports maintaining a list of “best practices” for school safety, he voted against a bill that would have ensured “best practices” were discussed in schools. Johnson has an “A” rating from the NRA, a national organization that opposes nearly all gun reforms.

Abortion policy

Barnes: Barnes believes decisions over abortion and reproduction should be left to the person who’s pregnant and their doctor. He would sign the Women’s Health Protection Act, ensuring abortion would be legal in every U.S. state. He supports making contraception free and broadly available.

Johnson: Johnson doesn’t support abortion rights and believes nearly all abortions should be banned, but he also doesn’t support a national prohibition on abortion. He believes Wisconsin voters should decide if the state law should include exceptions for rape and incest through “direct referendum,” but that currently isn’t legal in the State of Wisconsin and has been opposed by the Republican-led Wisconsin Legislature.

Environment/climate change

Barnes: Barnes supports federal funding for clean drinking water in Wisconsin, ensuring the removal of lead lateral lines and removing chemicals (like PFAs) from water. Barnes supports funding to help farmers, rural infrastructure and urban heat islands deal with impacts of climate change.

Johnson: Johnson believes he is powerless to combat climate change, saying it’s an "unsolvable problem." He says he would be ineffective at helping the U.S. become less reliant on fossil fuels because of the unreliability of alternative energy, and he has no proposals on how to combat the impact of climate change.

Wisconsin's midterm elections are Tuesday, November 8, 2022. If you have a question about voting or the races, submit it below.


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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