Who do you want for U.S. senator? Vote Aug. 9. | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Who do you want for U.S. senator? Vote Aug. 9.  


MILWAUKEE – It seems at least plausible that your next U.S. senator could be the current lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, or businessperson Alex Lasry, or, for another six years, Sen. Ron Johnson.  

Johnson, a Republican, is expected to succeed in the Aug. 9, 2022, Republican primary in his quest for a third term. The general election will be Nov. 8, 2022, after a Democratic opponent for Johnson is chosen in that party’s Aug. 9 primary.   

Who will face off against Johnson? The person for that coveted slot could be either Barnes or Lasry, the only two Democrats who polled above 20 percent each in a Marquette Law School Poll. That same poll, last month, gave the next highest polling Democrat, Sarah Godlewski, a 9% backing from those who say they will vote in the primary. Godlewski is the state treasurer of Wisconsin and a fifth-generation Wisconsinite.   

Here’s a quick look at Barnes, Johnson and Lasry – their backgrounds and where they stand on issues important to Jewish voters. We’d like to caution you that this is not a deep dive, but an introduction to the candidates. More voter guides and candidates’ websites are available online.   

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes   

Barnes, a Democrat, is the current lieutenant governor of Wisconsin.  

Barnes has embraced his namesake, Nelson Mandela, the late, famed anti-apartheid activist and former president of South Africa. Even Barnes’ twitter handle is “@TheOtherMandela.”  

According to a survey earlier this year by the nonprofit Jewish Electorate Institute, the number one issue that American Jewish voters want President Biden to work on is climate change. Barnes is chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, which issued more than 50 recommendations, including encouraging the development of a food waste program, supporting electric vehicle infrastructure, a focus on wetlands, and the creation of workforce transition plans.   

Barnes told NBC News last year that he has “more progressive credibility than any person running.” He has favored Medicare for All and the Green New Deal and has allied himself with progressives like Rep. Ilhan Omar. Yet some in the media report he moves towards the middle as needed. The Jewish Insider, a national news site, concluded that he is a “moderate progressive,” with one source saying he is “following the Obama playbook,” after interviews with nearly 30 political scientists, Democratic strategists and elected officials in Wisconsin.   

Barnes rose up through Milwaukee politics and has connected with others along the way.   

Richard Schwalb, a local Democratic and Jewish community activist, first met Barnes about 10 years ago, at a rally against neo-Nazis in West Allis. Barnes introduced anti-hate speakers there and the two have crossed paths several times as Barnes became a legislator and rose up in Wisconsin politics. Schwalb said Wisconsin has several strong Democratic candidates for the Senate, but he decided a few weeks ago to support Barnes because he’s good at connecting with people.   

J-Street, the left-leaning pro-Israel organization, has endorsed both Barnes and his highest-polling Democratic opponent, Alex Lasry.  

Sen. Ron Johnson  

At least some Jewish voters are sure to feel that Johnson has a record that hits the bullseye on Israel.  

The American Jewish Committee lists him as opposing the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement and as supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian quandary. He opposed the Iran nuclear deal. He has supported a number of pro-Israel resolutions and bills.  

But he was embroiled in a controversy involving Deborah Lipstadt, the Holocaust scholar. According to the Jerusalem Post, Johnson said on a talk show that the Jan. 6 rioters did not pose a threat and “loved their country,” despite the invasion and violence at the Capitol that day. Had the protesters been associated with Black Lives Matter, he said, he would have been concerned, according to media reports.  

This led Deborah Lipstadt to tweet that he was advocating “white supremacy.” Johnson then blocked her nomination as President Biden’s antisemitism envoy, though she was eventually confirmed.  

The Republican Jewish Coalition has endorsed him, yet other Jewish organizations have opposed him.   

Jewish voters’ second highest priority, after climate change, is voting rights, according to the nonprofit Jewish Electorate Institute. He has opposed Democrat-proposed “voting rights” reforms. “Show me somebody in the recent past that has wanted to vote that couldn’t,” he said in January, according to WABC 770 AM and The Hill. “We’ve made voting incredibly easy. Nobody’s suppressing the vote.”  

Johnson has also been accused of trying to deliver fake electors to Vice President Mike Pence before the Jan. 6 certification of President Biden’s election.  

Johnson tweeted on July 5 that “Democrat policies are not grounded in reality,” arguing in a video that the United States has “open borders” and that the left is engaged in a “war on fossil fuel” without reasonable alternatives.  

Alex Lasry  

Lasry, a former aide in President Barack Obama’s White House, is on leave from his management role at the family-owned Milwaukee Bucks.  

Lasry is a New York native who moved to Milwaukee about 8 years ago. He’s the son of a Moroccan-born billionaire and a graduate of New York University and the University of Pennsylvania. Lasry has served as a board member of the 92nd Street Y in New York City.  

Lasry has visited Israel many times. He supports a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. He told the Jewish Insider that he “can be very pro-Israel while also saying I believe very much in a Palestinian state.” He added that he is against Israeli settlement expansion and that “we can’t get to a two-state solution with Hamas in charge.”  

Lasry’s campaign website calls for more stringent government guardrails to combat climate change. It adds: “As we fight climate change, we must remember that communities of color too often bear the brunt of its devastating effects, while sharing in few of the economic opportunities presented by the clean energy economy. We cannot have environmental justice without racial justice, and it is clear that racism has been ingrained in every part of our governmental system.”  

Rep. Lisa Subeck (D), one of the three Jewish legislators serving in Madison, said she got to know Lasry somewhat when legislators were considering the construction of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena. She liked what she saw in Lasry and his team. She has endorsed him for senator. 

She noted that his campaign staff is fully unionized and that “when I look at who is going to be best able to beat Ron Johnson in November, I believe Alex is that candidate.”  

“I think we share a lot of the same values and I believe a lot of that comes from our Jewish upbringing.”

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Governor race  

In addition to making selections for U.S. Senate, Wisconsinites will choose a Republican candidate for governor on Aug. 9, to run against Gov. Tony Evers in the Nov. 8 general election. Evers has no Democratic primary opponent. The two highest polling Republican candidates, by at least ten points each, are:  

  • Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch  
  • Businessman and veteran Tim Michels