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Field of Democrats targeting Ron Johnson's U.S. Senate seat continues to grow
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Field of Democrats targeting Ron Johnson's U.S. Senate seat continues to grow

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Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski has become the latest Democratic candidate to officially declare she's running for U.S. Senate in what's expected to be a closely watched and hotly contested 2022 race for Republican Ron Johnson's seat.

Johnson hasn't yet said whether he plans to seek a third term in a state Democratic President Joe Biden won by fewer than 21,000 votes last fall.

Aside from Godlewski, the race has drawn Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Dr. Gillian Battino, a radiologist. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and former Millennial Action Project head Steven Olikara are also considering bids.

Johnson, 66, told reporters last month he doesn't feel as though he has to rush to make a decision. But that didn't stop former President Donald Trump from endorsing the Oshkosh businessman last week, saying in a statement released through Save America PAC: "He has no idea how popular he is. Run, Ron, Run!"

Johnson first ran for the seat in 2010, riding a wave of Republican victories in the midterm election of former President Barack Obama's first term to unseat three-term incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold. Six years later, when he stood for re-election in a rematch against Feingold, he pledged his second term would be his last.

But he has repeatedly walked that back, saying in a press call last month that while the pledge is "probably my preference now," it "was based on the assumption we wouldn’t have Democrats in total control of government."

Johnson has drawn national attention over characterizing the Jan. 6 armed Washington D.C. Capitol riot aiming to halt the certification of the election as peaceful, supporting an investigation into the 2020 presidential election results, touting false conspiracies and misinformation surrounding COVID-19 and more.

And already in the new Congress, Johnson's role in delaying the passage of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package last month, before later voting against it, has attracted strong Democratic criticism from local and national Democrats.

Those who have lined up in opposition to Johnson have hit him on all those issues. In the video announcing her candidacy Wednesday, Godlewski slammed the incumbent senator for wasting "time and money holding hearing after hearing to push his pet conspiracy theories," playing up the relationship between Johnson and Trump and asserting Johnson "completely lost touch with Wisconsin and reality."

Prior to winning election as state treasurer in fall 2018, Godlewski, an Eau Claire native and small business owner, led the effort to oppose a constitutional amendment to eliminate the treasurer's office.

An advocate for addressing student loan debt, Godlewski has represented the status of her own debt in different ways, including when it was obtained and how much of it is tied to her undergraduate degree or master's program, which the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported she hadn't completed, despite various media outlets reporting over the years that she had.

Nelson, whose late October announcement was overshadowed by the November presidential election, also launched his campaign with a pointed knock against Johnson, this one targeting the senator's approach to the COVID-19 crisis.

Nelson's video centered on an episode from October in which Johnson announced he attended a local Republican Party dinner event as he was awaiting his own COVID-19 test results, which later came back positive.

Nelson has served as Outagamie County executive since 2011 and was a three-term state representative before that. This isn't his first shot at running for Congress; he lost the 8th Congressional District race to U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher in 2016.

Lasry, a senior vice president with the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, kicked off his campaign in February with a video highlighting endorsements from Milwaukee politicians, his support for unions, his role in an effort to bring the Democratic National Convention to Milwaukee in 2020 and his participation in recent protests seeking to end racial disparities. 

A first-time candidate for public office, Lasry is a New York native and son of hedge fund billionaire Marc Lasry, who co-owns the Bucks. Shortly after his announcement, The Intercept pointed to comments Lasry made last summer in which he said "what most surprised me about Milwaukee is the fact that Milwaukee has all the same things as any city, especially any big city, has.

Battino, who's spent over 20 years in medicine and public health, according to her campaign website, doesn't appear to have yet posted any videos as part of a public launch to her campaign.

Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at WisPolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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