Ron Johnson 'Consumed' by 'Bizarre Conspiracies,' Says Senate Challenger Tom Nelson

Tom Nelson is county executive of Outagamie County, Wisconsin and a former state assembly member of six years' service. But he's focused on a loftier goal: the United States Senate.

The Democrat spoke to Newsweek about that ambition and why he believes Senator Ron Johnson needs to be replaced. The two-term senator is currently the only Republican to hold statewide office in Wisconsin.

"The contrast with Ron Johnson, I think could not be more stark," Nelson said. "He lives 23 minutes away from here. He's someone who is consumed by these bizarre conspiracies.

"He makes excuses for some bad—pretty bad folks. What happened with the insurrection, you saw that yesterday."

The day before the interview, Johnson suggested to a Senate hearing that the Capitol rioters could have been "provocateurs" and "fake Trump protestors."

Johnson has also said the deadly riot, which left five people dead, "didn't seem like an armed insurrection."

But Nelson's criticisms of Johnson go beyond his support for these unfounded claims. The Democrat believes Johnson has lost touch with the communities he represents.

"My mom used to say never forget where you came from," Nelson said. "And I like to see the economy work for everyone. I'd like to see a government that's truly of, by and for the people, not just folks like Ron Johnson, not just folks on Wall Street, but the working families on Carolyn Drive, the family farms in Clayton and Clear Lake, Wisconsin and small businesses up and down Main Street."

"I consider myself a populous progressive," Nelson said. "I think there's a populous vein that's running through this country and it's not going to abate until we fix the problems that are plaguing our communities."

"Ron Johnson is Exhibit A—what he's done and who he represents. I mean, he's ignored this economic crisis, voted for tax breaks, has enriched himself at the expense of all others. And I think the only way that we are going to satisfy this is you need someone who has the background that represents a community where a lot of folks have struggled."

Newsweek contacted Johnson's office for comment but hadn't received a reply at the time of publishing.

Nelson sees himself as coming from that background. His new book One Day Stronger: How One Union Local Saved a Mill and Changed an Industry—and What It Means for American Manufacturing tells the story of how a local paper mill's union successfully leveraged an obscure legal strategy to prevent the mill being sold to an industrial scrapper, saving hundreds of jobs in the process.

Nelson sees his role in saving the mill and the success of the union as a vindication of his approach to politics. He noted that local Republican politicians, including the governor, didn't provide assistance.

"I think it validates my overall strategy—a grassroots people-powered campaign," Nelson told Newsweek. "But we had no help. We had to do it on our own."

Johnson hasn't said whether he'll run again in 2022, but either way, Wisconsin will be a major Democratic target next year after it turned blue in the 2020 presidential election.

Tom Nelson is hoping a focus on bread and butter issues, a grassroots campaign and his long experience of community leadership will make him the next U.S. Senator for Wisconsin.

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson is hoping to become the next Democratic senator from Wisconsin. Photo Courtesy of Nelson for Wisconsin