Democrat Tom Nelson announces 2022 bid to unseat Johnson

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The 2022 race for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin is on, a little over a week before the 2020 presidential election.

Democrat Tom Nelson, the Outagamie County executive and a former state lawmaker, officially launched his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson on Monday. Johnson, currently midway through his second term, has not said yet whether he will seek a third term, run for governor or retire.

Nelson, 44, has been Outagamie County executive since 2011. Prior to that, he served six years in the state Assembly, including two years as majority leader. He left in 2010 and ran for lieutenant governor, winning the Democratic primary. He was Tom Barrett's running mate in 2010 when Barrett was defeated by Republican Scott Walker. Nelson also ran for Congress in 2016 and lost to Republican Mike Gallagher.

Nelson was a Democratic delegate for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, in 2020.

Nelson's early launch into the Senate race comes as many other Democrats are eyeing the seat in a busy election year. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, will also be up for reelection in 2022.

Other Democrats being mentioned as potential candidates for Senate include Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Attorney General Josh Kaul, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and several members of the Legislature.

Johnson, 65, hasn't committed to seeking a third term, saying he wants to see what happens after the 2020 election.

“Ron Johnson is focused on getting things done and keeping Wisconsin red this fall," said his spokesman, Ben Voelkel. "Anything 2022 is premature.”

Nelson said he was launching his candidacy on Monday, eight days before the 2020 election, because of what he called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's “power grab to install Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court so close to the election.” The Senate planned to vote on Barrett's confirmation on Monday. Johnson supports President Donald Trump's nomination of Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Nelson said Johnson was more focused on helping get Barrett confirmed for the Supreme Court than helping Wisconsin deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Coronavirus cases are surging across Wisconsin, including in the northeast corner of the state where Nelson serves as county executive.

Johnson tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month but said he had no symptoms. He has downplayed concerns about the virus, saying it is “not a death sentence” and “we have unfortunately been snookered into this mass hysteria that isn’t even close to the real risk."

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