- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2022

Sen. Ron Johnson is in the toughest political fight of his life, but he’s used to it.

For the third time in his political career, the Wisconsin Republican is trailing in polls ahead of a November election that pits him against a top state Democrat. The outcome of the race will determine control of the U.S. Senate. 

Mr. Johnson, who was narrowly elected to the Senate in 2010 and again in 2016, is facing Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. Polls show the Democrat in the lead.

It’s familiar territory for Mr. Johnson, who has won Senate races twice in a state where voters are nearly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats and fewer voters are considered part of the persuadable middle. 

“It seems like I’m always the underdog,” Mr. Johnson told The Washington Times. “I was the first time, and I certainly was the second time. I actually feel better about this race.”

Several polls show Mr. Barnes with a small edge, but Mr. Johnson discounts the surveys. Polls showed him behind in 2010 and 2016. In both races, he defeated Democrat Russ Feingold by 5 percentage points and 3.4 points, respectively. Mr. Feingold used to hold the Senate seat.

Mr. Johnson predicted another close race in November as he competes for voters in one of the nation’s most politically divided states. 

Joseph R. Biden beat President Trump in 2020 by fewer than 21,000 votes. Mr. Trump won the state in 2016 over Democrat Hillary Clinton by fewer than 23,000 votes.  

“It’s Wisconsin. We are fighting over the very small middle,” Mr. Johnson said. 

Mr. Johnson, who ran a plastics manufacturing plant in Oshkosh, initially wavered about seeking another term. He said he decided to run after voters urged him to stay in the Senate, where he has worked to lower taxes, reduce regulations, and promote jobs and economic growth. 

He is a champion of reducing federal spending, which has exploded in the past two years because of bills approved mostly by Democrats. 

He voted against much of the government spending that economists blame for the highest inflation rate in 40 years, and he opposed Democratic energy policies that have contributed to high gas prices. 

Mr. Johnson, a top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has led his party’s effort to investigate the foreign business dealings of Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.  

He and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican on the Judiciary Committee, are seeking records about FBI contact with Facebook and other social media platforms in efforts to block stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop computer in the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election. The laptop contained information about lucrative foreign business dealings that Hunter Biden secured thanks to his father’s powerful position. 

If he is reelected and Republicans take the Senate gavel in January, Mr. Johnson will chair the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on investigations. He plans to aggressively scrutinize the government’s “miserably failed” response to the COVID-19 pandemic that centered on lockdowns and mandates, and recent whistleblower accusations of misconduct at the FBI.

“It’s becoming pretty clear that there’s at least within some parts of the top echelons with these agencies, some real partisan corruption going on,” Mr. Johnson said. 

Voters who approach him at campaign events are less interested in asking about Hunter Biden and are not simply focused on high prices at the grocery store and gas pump, Mr. Johnson said. They convey to him their fears that the country is headed toward a steep decline, he said.

“Almost without fail, somebody in the crowd will come up, with either tears welling up in their eyes or literally streaming down their cheeks, saying, ‘We’ve got to save this country,’” Mr. Johnson said.

“As much as they’ve shouldered the burden of all the disastrous results of Democratic governance,” he said, voters are distraught about liberal policies allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports and shower in girls’ locker rooms. 

“And school administrators wanting to inject gender-blocking drugs in the arms of their children without telling their parents,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s those types of issues that people look at and say to me, ‘What is going on in this country? This is out of control.’”

The senator hopes those fears will energize the Republican Party base to turn out to support him in November. He is also working to attract undecided voters who believe the Democratic agenda has gone too far by infringing on parental rights and imposing policies that have contributed to rising crime and a flood of illegal immigrants at the southern border.

Mr. Johnson, 67, has sought to define Mr. Barnes, 35, as a far-left Democrat who would join the far-left “Squad” of congressional lawmakers who have called for defunding the police and opening the borders. An August campaign advertisement approved by Mr. Johnson shows Mr. Barnes holding up an “Abolish ICE” T-shirt he took from the Democratic Socialists of America. The organization wants to eliminate Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for catching and deporting illegal immigrants. 

The Johnson ad warns that Mr. Barnes wants to “abolish ICE, open our borders to illegal immigrants and release violent felons without bail.”

The Barnes campaign declined interview requests. Mr. Barnes told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he backs “comprehensive reform in our immigration agencies that protect our borders while establishing a pathway to citizenship and ensuring no one coming to this country has to experience traumas like family separation.”

Mr. Johnson has accused Mr. Barnes of hiding from the media and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on state police protection during his campaign. 

“I think their strategy is to run a Joe Biden campaign from the basement or from his state patrol-chauffeured vehicles,” Mr. Johnson said in a reference to the Democrat’s limited time on the campaign trail ahead of his 2020 election. “And don’t subject him to questions from the media or Wisconsinites. They literally can’t afford to let Wisconsin know who he is.”

Campaign ads backing Mr. Barnes call Mr. Johnson “out of touch with Wisconsin” and accuse him of failing to fight for an Oshkosh company to keep 1,000 manufacturing jobs in the state instead of moving them to South Carolina.

Mr. Johnson said the contract to produce vehicles for the U.S. Postal Service involved federal funds that would be spent more efficiently outside the state. He pointed to Wisconsin’s low unemployment rate and employers’ difficulties with hiring.

He is unapologetic about his policy positions, particularly the need to cut federal spending, which increased 50% from 2019 to 2021, according to the Treasury. The federal debt is now nearly $31 trillion. 

“I’m the same guy who ran in 2010 concerned about growing debt — even more concerned about it,” Mr. Johnson said. “I’m distraught that I’m one of the few. It seems society and certainly Washington, D.C., is just whistling past the graveyard.”

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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