U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is sending out some mixed signals on whether he’ll run for reelection in 2022.
In an interview this week, Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said he “may not be the best candidate” for the 2022 U.S. Senate race, an indication his reelection bid is not exactly preordained despite the fact he raised $1.2 million in the second quarter of the year, more than his Democratic challengers and double his first-quarter take.
“I want to make sure that this U.S. Senate seat is retained in Republican hands,” Johnson told conservative commentator Lisa Boothe. “You see what the media’s doing to me. I may not be the best candidate. I wouldn’t run if I don’t think I could win, if I don’t think I was the best person to be able to win.”
He then referenced former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant, who he said retired at the height of his success because “he wanted to live a life.”
“This is an incredibly frustrating place here,” Johnson said. “Having come from the private sector, running a successful business. Being able to accomplish things. When you just see the dysfunction that is Washington, D.C., it can be pretty frustrating.”
Johnson went on to say he has been disappointed with his own accomplishments while in office.
“I feel really bad that I’ve been here now probably 11 years and we’ve doubled the debt,” Johnson said. “Obamacare’s still in place, and we’ve doubled the debt. I don’t feel like my time here has been particularly successful.”
Johnson said he ran for the seat in 2010 on issues such as the national debt and repealing former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but Republicans under former President Donald Trump failed to repeal the health care law, and also saw the national debt increase.
If Johnson didn’t run for reelection, Republicans who potentially could run for the seat are U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, and former U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson.
Johnson has repeatedly said he hasn’t made a decision on reelection and doesn’t feel pressured to make one anytime soon. His latest campaign finance report shows his campaign spending nearly $22,000 on polling from the Republican firm The Tarrance Group, suggesting he’s taking a measured approach to assessing his chances of success.
At the state Republican convention, Johnson said he doesn’t believe his delay on a reelection decision negatively affects other Republicans’ chances of winning if he decides not to run.
The Democratic primary field for Johnson’s seat is already crowded. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Milwaukee City Council member Chantia Lewis joined the race this week.
Other Democratic candidates running for the seat include Wausau radiologist Dr. Gillian Battino; state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski; state Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee; Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, who is currently on leave to campaign; Franklin business owner Adam Murphy; Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson; and Democratic Party activist Peter Peckarsky.
Democrats knocked Johnson for his comments.
“We, like many Wisconsinites, agree with Ron Johnson that his 12 years in the Senate has not been successful for Wisconsin,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesperson Philip Shulman said. “Johnson’s self-serving agenda attempted to strip protections for preexisting conditions from Wisconsinites, encouraged people not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and sowed dysfunction in D.C.”
A Johnson spokesperson didn’t respond to a request seeking comment.