Senator Ron Johnson is not ready to give up his congressional microphone after all, one that the Republican has used to loudly push COVID and election-related misinformation in the spirit of Donald Trump. The Wisconsin lawmaker announced Sunday he would seek reelection for a third term this year, walking back his promise to serve only two and putting all eyes on what is expected to be one of the toughest races for Democrats in the 2022 midterms, with national implications.
“Much as I’d like to ease into a quiet retirement, I don’t feel I should” when “America is in peril,” Johnson wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, citing “the Democrats’ complete takeover of government” and pandemic response as among the apparently unforeseen circumstances that compelled him to run again. “I will continue to fight for freedom in the public realm by running for re-election,” he added, noting it was not a decision he “made lightly.”
His bid could upend Democrats’ hopes of flipping the battleground state—Joe Biden won Wisconsin narrowly in 2020, as Trump did in 2016—and potentially decide control of the Senate. Johnson’s move also has implications for Wisconsin’s governor’s contest as well, Associated Press correspondent Scott Bauer notes, and comes only a day after Senate Minority Whip John Thune, a Republican seen as a potential successor to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced he would run for reelection in South Dakota this year.
Johnson, who on Sunday called upon the “support of every American who values the truth and refuses to allow lies and distortions to prevail,” has been at the forefront of the attacks on public health and democracy that have come to define today’s GOP, a party still fiercely loyal to Trump. Johnson, who is among the Republicans who objected to certifying Biden’s election, has spent much of the year downplaying the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and carrying the torch for the Big Lie that inspired it. The Wisconsin senator told GOP state lawmakers in November that they should try to take total control of federal elections in the state, part of the broader Republican effort following Trump’s loss to overhaul election administration in their favor. Outside of parroting false claims about elections, Johnson has dedicated much of his time to spreading fringe theories about the coronavirus and the efficacy of vaccines. Johnson, who is not vaccinated, has spread anti-vaccine misinformation while advocating for unproven or discredited COVID-19 treatments such as mouthwash.
Among the list of Democrats running against Johnson are state treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, and Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry. Historical odds bode well for Johnson, the Associated Press notes, as “the party that does not hold the White House generally gains seats in midterm congressional elections.” Not giving up hope, Democrats in Wisconsin have been fundraising for nearly a year to drive turnout in this year’s midterms, according to The New York Times. Ben Wikler, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, suggested that Johnson’s bid would “inspire” Democrats to show up. Johnson is “an active menace to American democracy, a threat to public health, and an economic saboteur of the middle class,” Wikler said.
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