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Wisconsin U.S. Senate race too close to call as Ron Johnson holds 1-point lead

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Johnson Barnes

Ron Johnson was leading Mandela Barnes.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson stopped short of declaring victory early Wednesday but said "this race is over" as he maintained a 1-point lead against Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, whose campaign said they were committed to making sure every vote is counted.

Johnson said just after midnight Wednesday he's confident Barnes cannot make up his deficit.

"We will wait and see what the Wisconsin voters have decided after all their voices are heard," Barnes spokesperson Maddy McDaniel said around the same time.

By later Wednesday morning, Johnson's lead slimmed down to 27,000 votes. But he put out a statement saying there was no mathematically viable path to victory for Barnes.

The New York Times' live forecast, which analyzes both counted and uncounted votes, predicted at 1:10 a.m. that the Oshkosh Republican would win the race by about 1.3 points.

Unofficial results are likely — but not certain — to come in early Wednesday. Election results are considered unofficial until they're formally canvassed, but the AP declares victors when a winner is certain.

Follow live results as they come in tonight.

Johnson has been rated by pundits as the Republicans' most vulnerable incumbent senator. Still, most pre-election polls showed Johnson up a few points against Barnes, though many had the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee within the margin of error.

The Oshkosh Republican in 2016 pledged not to seek a third term. He said in January that he had since changed his view because of the changing political landscape and the Democrats' "complete takeover of government," referring to their control of the White House and Congress.

During his campaign Johnson blamed Democratic policy and rhetoric for high gas prices, inflation and rising crime rates. He called for more control over government spending.

Along the way, he received sharp rebukes for a host of controversial, conspiratorial and often incorrect statements about the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection and elections.

Throughout his campaign, Barnes sought to corner Johnson for pioneering tax cuts in 2017 that the senator and many of his biggest donors benefitted from. The overturning of Roe v. Wade was another pillar of Barnes' campaign, along with the Democrat's pledge to codify abortion protections if he is elected. Barnes also said he would focus on rebuilding the middle class through increased manufacturing in the United States and middle-class tax cuts.

But some Democrats worried Barnes' television ads — many of which featured him in ordinary settings, like unpacking groceries or making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, sometimes defending his record and other times promoting his current platform — weren't effective enough. Other liberals were concerned he didn't talk about economic challenges enough or wasn't specific enough when he did talk about them.

A total of $144 million was spent on advertising in the state's U.S. Senate general election, with Republicans spending $77 million to Democrats' $67 million, the media tracking group AdImpact reported. Wisconsin's U.S. Senate race was the fifth-most expensive in the country – after Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona according to AdImpact.

State law triggers a free recount of the results if the margin between the candidates is 0.25 percent or less and the candidate who lost the initial count by that margin requests one. If margin is more than 0.25 percent but no more than 1 percent, the losing candidate may petition and pay for a recount.

The election is Tuesday. Are you ready?

Get caught up on who's on the ballot, how to vote and when you can expect to see results. 

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For those who have yet to vote, or those curious about when election results will be available, here are some common questions and answers regarding the midterm election.

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If you're among that most rare of species -- the undecided voter, still wondering where the candidates stand on the issues -- we're here to help. 

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Restoring abortion rights and blocking enforcement of the state's 1849 abortion ban was to be the Democrats' cushion in an election many expect to favor Republicans.

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A major component of Michels' plan is to replace the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission with what he calls the "Wisconsin Election Integrity Group."

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"I really wish people wouldn't mess with the laws so close to the election, or in the middle of the whole cycle," Florence town clerk Shelly VanPembrook said.

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Circuit Court Judge Nia Trammell said changing the state's absentee ballot certification rules this close to the Nov. 8 election would almost certainly create more confusion for voters.

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Veto-proof majorities would only be significant if achieved in both chambers, as both are needed to successfully override a governor's veto.

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If elected governor, Tim Michels has pledged to divest from the construction company that's secured millions in state contracts over the last decade to avoid any conflicts of interest. 

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Wisconsin's 1849 abortion ban contains no exemptions for rape and incest.

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Evers and Michels are in a hotly contested Nov. 8 election that could drastically impact Wisconsin policy for the next four years, including the 2024 presidential election.

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Abortion rights have become a rallying cry among Democratic candidates across the country, with many, including Evers, making it a primary campaign talking point.

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“What people don’t understand is how many layers of security there are," Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell said.

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Tony Evers is in a tight gubernatorial race with Republican business owner Tim Michels, who has taken aim at the Democratic governor as being soft on crime.

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Michels said "inflation is running out of control" and he plans to implement "massive tax reform" by lowering the income tax and eliminating the personal property tax on businesses.

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Johnson "would feel much better about the 2022 election had Governor Evers signed bills the Legislature passed to restore confidence in our election system," a spokesman said.

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Attorney James Bopp told Dane County Circuit Judge Jacob Frost all records and assets once handled by the office have been handed over to the Assembly.

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Dubbed "Elections 101," the four-part series aims to create a better awareness of the state's electoral process and build more trust in the safety and security of voting in Wisconsin.

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Michels' comments were quick to draw criticism from Gov. Tony Evers, who he will face in the Nov. 8 election, where reproductive rights have become a rallying cry among Democrats.

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In the competitive U.S. Senate race, some organizers are concerned that Democratic leaders, and to some extent Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, are not doing enough to motivate liberals to vote.

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Between the primary election and early October, Barnes' campaign focused on positive ads while other Democratic groups aired negative Johnson ads.

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If Mandela Barnes wins in Wisconsin, analysts say, it increases the odds Democrats will pick up seats elsewhere, giving the party enough votes to abolish the filibuster.

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The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association face-off saw the two candidates clash on abortion, Social Security, public safety, immigration and climate change, among other issues.

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The Wisconsin Senate convened for 15 seconds to gavel in and adjourn the special session called by Evers to give voters an up-or-down vote on abortion law.

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"To me, this election is about Wisconsin and about 2022," U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Tuesday after being asked whether he would invite Trump to campaign with him.

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