Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Passes Up Potential Second Term to Run for U.S. Senate

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, 34, passed up the chance to be elected for a potential second term on Tuesday to run as a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Wisconsin's first Black lieutenant governor, Barnes now is the seventh Democrat in the race competing for Republican Sen. Ron Johnson's Senate seat, the Associated Press reported. With Barnes out of the race, Gov. Tony Evers' running mate will be determined by who wins the August 2022 primary. Evers called Barnes a "good friend" and "great partner" in a statement and previously assigned him to lead his climate change task force.

"I'm running for the United States Senate because when things get tough, we shouldn't lower our expectations," Barnes said in a statement. "Instead of changing our dreams, we need to change the game. Hard-working Wisconsin families deserve every opportunity, but politicians like Senator Ron Johnson aren't delivering."

Meanwhile, Johnson has not announced if he will run for a third term. However, he had raised more money through June than all of his Democratic competitors.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is passing up the chance to be elected for a potential second term by entering the race for a U.S. Senate seat. In this photo, Barnes casts the Wisconsin delegation's votes during the roll call to nominate former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic Party's 2020 nominee for president on the second day of the Democratic National Convention. Brian Snyder/AFP via Getty Images

Barnes is vying to become the first African-American from Wisconsin to serve in the Senate.

An eighth Democrat is expected to get in the race soon.

Barnes, in his launch video, is shown running through the streets of Milwaukee. He speaks about backing family-supporting jobs, improving health care, addressing climate change and protecting democracy and the right to vote.

Johnson's spokeswoman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Barnes brings some name recognition to the Democratic field that includes other current officeholders, political newcomers, a doctor and an executive with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Barnes for years has said the Democratic Party must do a better job connecting with young people and people of color. He played up his middle class upbringing in his announcement, saying he has dedicated his career to "leveling the playing field for everyday people in Wisconsin."

"Growing up, my father worked on an assembly line for 30 years, my mother taught in Milwaukee public schools," Barnes said. "They were able to provide me with a foundation for opportunity. I believe we need to build a better America where the opportunity I found isn't so rare."

Barnes won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in a blowout in 2018 and was then paired with Evers. They went on to defeat then-Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. She is expected to run for governor against Evers next year.

Barnes was outspoken in the 2018 campaign, accusing Walker of ignoring "people who look like me" and saying then-President Donald Trump wanted to create "a superior race."

Barnes also was outspoken following the Kenosha police shooting last summer of Jacob Blake, a Black man. Barnes criticized Trump for visiting the city amid protests after the shooting. And Barnes was critical of how police reacted to Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager who shot and killed two protesters during a violent night of protests.

The job of lieutenant governor has few official duties. When Evers tapped Barnes to lead the governor's task force on climate change, he released a report in December that included 55 policy recommendations. He has also advocated for tighter gun control laws and redistricting reform, issues that Evers has championed as governor.

Barnes quietly received his college diploma from Alabama A&M University in May 2020, 12 years after he attended classes there and two years after he said he had a degree even though he had not yet fulfilled all the requirements to get one.

He also drew criticism for having unpaid parking tickets, overdue property taxes and higher security costs as lieutenant governor.

Prior to being elected lieutenant governor, Barnes served four years in the state Assembly from 2013 to 2017, first elected at age 25. Rather than seek a third term in 2016, he ran for the state Senate against Democratic incumbent Sen. Lena Taylor and lost in the primary.

Barnes' decision to join the Senate race opens the field for lieutenant governor. Evers was expected to name his preferred running mate soon.

Evers, in a statement, praised Barnes but stopped short of endorsing him. Evers said Democrats were lucky to have strong candidates to take on Johnson and "send him packing."

Other Democrats in the Senate race are: state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski; Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson; state Sen. Chris Larson, of Milwaukee; Alex Lasry, who is on leave from his job as a Milwaukee Bucks executive; Dr. Gillian Battino, a Wausau radiologist; attorney and Democratic Party activist Peter Peckarsky; and Adam Murphy, an information technology business owner from Franklin.

Steven Olikara, the founder of the Millennial Action Project, has formed an exploratory committee and is expected to join the race soon.

Sen. Ron Johnson
In this June 8, 2021, file photo, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Greg Nash/Pool via AP, File