MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A crowded field of Democratic candidates that includes political newcomers, current office holders, a doctor and the son of a billionaire made their pitches Sunday for why they're the best pick to take out Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in 2022.
Each of the five announced candidates, and a sixth who is poised to enter the race, addressed the virtual Wisconsin Democratic Convention. For several of the lesser-known candidates, it marked their first chance to make their case before an audience of party activists who are the most likely people to be voting in the August 2022 primary.
Three of the candidates are current office holders: state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski,Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, a former state representative, and current state Sen. Chris Larson, of Milwaukee.
Two others are political newcomers: Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, whose father is a billionaire hedge fund manager and the team's co-owner, and Dr. Gillian Battino, a Wausau radiologist.
A sixth speaker and the third who has never run for office before, Steven Olikara, formed an exploratory committee last week and appeared all but certain to run. He would be the first person of Indian descent to be elected to the Senate from Wisconsin.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is also considering a run for the Senate. He didn't speak Sunday, but in recorded comments broadcast to convention attendees on Saturday, Barnes detailed his efforts to combat climate change and achieve racial equity. Barnes is the only statewide elected official who is Black, and he would be the first African American U.S. senator from Wisconsin should he run and win.
Johnson said last week that he hasn't decided whether to seek a third term and that he feels no pressure to decide anytime soon.
Nelson, speaking from his garage in front of a stack of wood that he said he chopped himself, pitched himself as the underdog who doesn't have personal wealth to tap for the race. He has modeled his candidacy off of former Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, who made similar arguments in his first successful run in 1992.
“We have nominated an underdog before and we can do it again," Nelson said.
Lasry said he would follow similar strategies used in 2018 by Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Gov. Tony Evers in their successful campaigns, going to parts of the state that Democrats have ignored in the past to build a broad coalition. He also touted his endorsements from, and support for, labor unions.
Godlewski, who raised a Bloody Mary during her Sunday morning address, said Democrats need to go on the offensive. She had some of the sharpest attacks on Johnson, who has emerged as one of former President Donald Trump's biggest supporters.
“Wisconsinites deserve far much better than McCarthyism 2.0," she said in reference to Johnson.
Larson called for fighting against “creeping, festering fascism” while highlighting his own record, which included being among the 14 Democratic state senators who fled the state in 2011 in an ultimately failed attempt to block then-Gov. Scott Walker's Act 10 anti-union law.
Battino focused on her experience as a doctor while advocating for Medicare for All and expanding access to health care.
Olikara, 31, spoke of being the son of immigrants from India and referred to himself as a “skinny, first generation brown kid from Brookfield.” Olikara referenced both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King while making a call to build a “coalition of dignity." Olikara founded the Millennial Action Project, a nonprofit that encourages bipartisan political cooperation among young leaders. He has never run for office before.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Preya Samsunda dismissed the arguments made by the Democrats.
“Wisconsinites heard more of the same failed socialist policies that make it more expensive to live the American dream,” she said.