Nelson drops Democratic primary bid for Senate, endorses Barnes

By: - July 25, 2022 12:20 pm
Tom Nelson (Screenshot | WisPolitics)

Outagamie Executive Tom Nelson (Screenshot | WisPolitics)

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson dropped out of the Senate Democratic primary race Monday, throwing his support to Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

Nelson, who was the first to formally declare he would run to challenge incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, consistently polled behind Barnes as well as Alex Lasry and Sarah Godlewski. 

“We ran out of money,” Nelson tweeted Monday morning. He went on to combine his endorsement of Barnes with a two-pronged jab at Lasry and Godlewski: “So I am suspending our campaign and endorsing the one candidate who is not trying to buy this election.”

Lasry is a Milwaukee Bucks executive and Godlewski is the Wisconsin State Treasurer; both are wealthy and have been largely self-funding their campaigns.

Nelson entered the race as an unabashedly pro-labor candidate who also made climate change, including opposition to Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline reconstruction, a core part of his message. 

In campaign forums he pointed to his electoral success in the nonpartisan Outagamie County executive’s office as evidence he could win in politically red territory with a strong progressive message. That didn’t translate to the Democratic primary campaign, however. 

“Mandela can now count on me to be on his side every step of the way,” Nelson said in a statement announcing his departure from the race. “I urge other Democratic primary voters to also support him now as well.”

Barnes released a statement accepting the endorsement. “I deeply respect Tom Nelson’s commitment to the working people in this state and I’m thankful for his endorsement,” he said. “It will take all of us coming together in every corner of this state to beat Ron Johnson.”

The primary is Aug. 9. Nelson’s name remains on ballots, which have already been printed.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.