Steven Olikara, a 31-year-old who has worked with young officeholders to reach bipartisan solutions, announced Tuesday he is joining the crowded Democratic field for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin.
Olikara is running his first campaign and is the 11th Democrat to get in the race for the seat currently held by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, who hasn’t said yet whether he would seek a third term for the seat that is up in 2022. Johnson is a close ally of former President Donald Trump, who encouraged him to run again.
Wisconsin’s Senate race is expected to be one of the most hotly contested nationwide, regardless of whether Johnson runs, in part because the state is so evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats and majority control of the Senate will be in play.
The Democratic primary is just under a year away on Aug. 9.
Olikara, a musician and former DJ, said he would bring his guitar on the campaign trail and play Johnny Cash songs while pitching a message emphasizing collaboration and consensus building. He said his message is designed to attract liberal Democrats who supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, “politically homeless Republicans” and “disillusioned, disaffected independents.”
Olikara said he would model his campaign after winning ones run in Wisconsin by President Joe Biden in 2020 and Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018. Both of them did well with crucial independent voters in the swing state.
“I’m really proud that we have a pretty wide coalition of people coming together as a motley crew of people,” Olikara said.
Barbara Lawton, who served eight years as former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s lieutenant governor, endorsed Olikara on Tuesday.
Olikara, who credits Doyle with sparking his interest in getting involved with politics and studying at UW-Madison, launched his campaign with an event in Milwaukee. Olikara is the son of Indian immigrants and grew up in Brookfield. If elected, he would become the first person of Indian descent to represent Wisconsin in Congress.
“I’m running because I think we need a fundamentally different business model and culture in our politics to solve the scale of the problems that we’re facing,” Olikara said in an interview. “And that’s what I’ve been practicing for the past decade to the organization I founded, Millennial Action Project, and what I hope to elevate in this race, which is a more inclusive, compassionate and honest form of politics.”
Olikara faces a packed field, which includes Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes; state treasurer Sarah Godlewski; Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson; and Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry. Others running include Milwaukee Ald. Chantia Lewis, Wisconsin Emergency Management administrator Darrell Williams and Wausau radiologist Gillian Battino.