When Elizabeth Warren recently traveled to Wisconsin for progressive U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes, she reminded crowds that Barnes is not a billionaire who can “just write a check” to pay for his campaign. The Massachusetts senator was picking up on a major theme for the 35-year-old Wisconsin lieutenant governor in his bid for the Democratic nomination, in one of the most high-profile senatorial races of 2022. With Warren at his side, Barnes told his followers in Madison, “I don’t have millions and personal wealth.”
Unlike a pair of wealthy rivals in the Aug. 9 Democratic primary — Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Wisconsin state treasurer Sarah Godlewski — and Republican incumbent Ron Johnson, Barnes can’t fund his own. country. Raised in one of Milwaukee’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, he is the son of a United Auto Workers member and a public school teacher. His last financial disclosure form listed assets of less than $75,000.
However, as a top contender in the primary race, Barnes says his experience is an asset. He says Democrats need a candidate who clearly distinguishes himself from Johnson, whom the challenger dismisses as “a multi-millionaire selling out working families while giving his wealthiest donors $215 million in tax breaks.” .
“It’s important that people make a real choice at the ballot box, and honestly, I think my contrast to Senator Johnson couldn’t be more apparent,” Barnes told me. “I would plunge the median income in the Senate if I were elected. He would fall in free fall. Democrats’ best hope of connecting with frustrated voters in a midterm election year characterized by economic volatility and high inflation is to nominate “more people with real working-class experience,” a- he explained.
Barnes isn’t the only Democrat this year to say the party needs to elevate more working-class Senate candidates. In Missouri, when Trudy Busch Valentine, the granddaughter of beer baron August Anheuser Busch Sr., entered the race for the open seat in that state’s Senate, she was immediately rebuffed by her chief rival. “Missouri deserves a warrior for workers, a proven patriot who has served his country, who has the courage to stand up to criminal politicians, the corrupt elites who run huge multinational corporations and the billionaire heiresses who have robbed our communities for parts,” said the campaign of Lucas Kunce, a Marine Corps veteran and former director of national security policy at the American Economic Liberties Project. Kunce has called political compromises that see “bipartisan majorities voting for Wall Street bailouts, bad trade deals, big oil subsidies, eternal wars and nation building overseas”, and promised not only to reverse the seat from Republican to Democrat, but from upset a political status quo in which “billionaires can call all the shots in our economy.”
Barnes raises similar populist themes. “You have to look at politicians and their financial interests, especially when you’re talking about ultra-rich politicians. They’re not going to take votes that make them less wealthy,” the lieutenant governor said. “If the decision is to take a vote that helps uplift the community or increase its wealth, the community is going to be left behind every time.” The candidate is so certain that this message will resonate that he placed it at the center of a campaign ad in which he tells voters: “I am not like most senators, nor any of the other millionaire candidates for the Senate. . My mother was a teacher; my father worked in third shift. I know how hard you work and I know that by bringing manufacturing home, we are creating jobs and reducing costs. If we want to change Washington, we have to change the people we send there.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted the ad’s “reference to multi-millionaires Lasry, Godlewski and Johnson.” The Republican incumbent spent $9 million of his own funds to fund his initial Senate bid in 2010. This year, Johnson, who objected that the 2017 Republican tax cuts had not gone far enough to help business owners, relies on large donations and corporate PAC money to fund a campaign that has already spent $6.9 million and benefited from more than $5 million in outside spending .
At the same time, Lasry is writing substantial checks to pay for a campaign that has already spent more than $8 million, 64% of which has been self-funded by the candidate, according to independent nonprofit organization OpenSecrets. Of the more than $5 million Godlewski has raised, almost 65% is self-funded. By contrast, Barnes’ cash flow figure is nil, as is that of Outagamie County executive Tom Nelson, a progressive populist who ranked fourth in a recent poll.
Barnes, whose campaign is based on donations averaging less than $40, is at or near the top in recent polls. He’ll be overwhelmed, but he’s convinced he has the winning message for a fall campaign against a millionaire Republican. “Not being a millionaire gives me a better perspective,” said Barnes, who argues that voters will respond to a candidate who recognizes that “the reason the Senate is so broken is that these people don’t share the experience of Americans. ordinary”.