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Crowded Democratic Senate primary field grows to 9

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MADISON (WKOW) -- If it seems like the group of Democrats seeking to replace Sen. Ron Johnson is growing by the day, that's because it is - at least this week.

Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis released a video Wednesday announcing her candidacy for the 2022 U.S. Senate race. Lewis joined the race one day after Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes announced his candidacy after months of speculation he was eyeing a Senate seat.

With the two additions to the race this week, the field has grown to nine candidates. Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson was the first to join the race and was followed by Alex Lasry, an executive with the Milwaukee Bucks who has temporarily stepped away from his duties with the team. Lasry's father, Marc, is a co-owner of the team, which won the NBA championship Tuesday night.

State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski is in the race as well; she and Barnes are the two candidates in the Democratic field who have won statewide races. Barnes played up that experience during a stop Wednesday at Giant Jones Brewing on Madison's east side.

"The fact is it's about who's gonna put together a message that resonates with people across the state of Wisconsin," Barnes said. "You only get that having experience with people all across the state of Wisconsin; you can't just make it up on the fly."

The state Republican party has focused its message so far on Barnes, Godlewski, and Lasry.

“The current Democrat field consists of candidates who have lied about their resume, neglected to pay their taxes and jumped ahead of the elderly for the COVID vaccine," said Wisconsin GOP Communications Director Anna Kelly. "We look forward to watching them trip over themselves as they try to prove who is the most liberal.”

Critics have accused Godlewski of lying about her education. Her wedding announcement said she had a master's degree while Godlewski has said she never claimed herself to have finished the master's program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Barnes has faced criticism over falling behind on his property taxes and having unpaid parking tickets. Lasry was criticized earlier this year for getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it was only available to the most vulnerable citizens; Lasry said he was offered the vaccine on short notice through a connection to his wife and never used his influence to cut in line.

State Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) is also vying for the Democratic nomination and said he believed the crowded field, which he joked Wednesday was now big enough to form a baseball team, was a symbol of Johnson's vulnerability.

Johnson has come under criticism for a recent fixation on elevating the extremely rare stories of people who suffered severe adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine. Johnson has not decided whether he will seek a third term in office; he said he wouldn't back in 2016 but in recent weeks has said the calculus has changed since Democrats how control the White House and have a narrow majority in Congress.

"I think it shows there's a lot of enthusiasm to get rid of Ron Johnson, probably the most embarrassing politician we've had in Wisconsin since Joe McCarthy," Larson said.

Democrats in the crowded primary also include Wausau physician Dr. Gillian Battino, party activist Peter Peckarsky, and Franklin business owner Adam Murphy. Steven Olikara, who founded the Millenial Action Project, is expected to announce his candidacy as well; he was given time alongside other declared Senate candidates at Democratic state convention earlier this summer.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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