Sarah Godlewski, left, endorses Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin’s Democratic Senate primary during a joint appearance Friday at a child care center in Fitchberg. (Photo | Alli Peters for the Mandela Barnes Campaign)
State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski suspended her U.S. Senate campaign Friday and endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes as the Democratic candidate to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson.
During a joint announcement Friday morning at a Fitchburg child care center, Godlewski ticked off the issues she had championed in her campaign — including women’s reproductive rights, access to affordable child care and being a voice for rural Wisconsin and residents outside of the state’s two metropolitan centers — then pivoted to offering all of those as reasons to support Barnes.
Addressing women and girls “worried about their rights as they are seeing Ron Johnson say that they cannot make their own health care decisions,” she added: “I will never back down from that fight. But I know the first step to get us there is electing Mandela Barnes, who actually cares about this issue.”
Barnes highlighted Godlewski’s advocacy for the issues she had run on and affirmed them as part of his own agenda.
Godlewski’s withdrawal capped a week that cemented Barnes’ status as the front-runner in the Aug. 9 primary election.
On Monday, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, who had been in fourth place in polls, dropped out and backed Barnes. Alex Lasry did the same on Wednesday. Lasry, a Milwaukee Bucks executive and son of the NBA team’s billionaire co-owner, had been a consistent No. 2 among voters polled about the Democratic Senate primary field.
Responding to a reporter’s question Friday about primary campaigns and intraparty conflict, Barnes was upbeat. “Primaries make candidates stronger,” he said. “It has made me a much better candidate.”
Going into the fall campaign, Democrats “are more united than we have ever been before,” Barnes added.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said Lasry campaign insiders reported internal polling showed tha Godlewski lost support to Barnes when she stopped running television ads for eight weeks in June and July.
None of the three departures from the primary race will affect ballots, which have already been printed; the names of the candidates who have withdrawn remain, along with those of four other Democratic hopefuls who have polled below 1% to date.
The consolidation of support behind Barnes now turns attention to his matchup with Johnson in the Nov. 8 Senate race. On Friday, Lasry’s campaign announced a $584,000 TV ad buy in Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay for a spot focused on attacking Johnson on the subject of businesses outsourcing jobs. (NBC News reported that the air time had been previously paid for.)
Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist and one-time Democratic state lawmaker, said the rapid consolidation of the other three leading hopefuls behind Barnes left him “stunned.”
“This is a revolutionary change in primary politics,” Lee said. Primary contestants typically have “little incentive to drop out.”
Polling may be changing that, he suggested. “This year we’re getting this real time voting, in the form of public opinion polling that has gotten so accurate and so dynamic that all of a sudden candidates figure, ‘I don’t need to wait until election day.’”
As millionaire self-funded candidates, Lasry and Godlewski both appear to have spent more of their own money on their campaigns than the Barnes campaign has raised and spent so far relying on donors. Still, each hit a ceiling of support.
Lasry has an MBA degree, Lee observed. “I think he just had a dry-eyed,coldblooded look at the numbers and he realized, ‘Why throw good money after bad?’” he said. “There was no benefit to staying in the race.”
The same was probably true for Godlewski, Lee added. “I don’t think she had a bottomless pit of money. She had to make some rational decisions.”
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