U.S. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Samantha Dravis speaking at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) | Photo by Gage Skidmore CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced Sunday that he will run for a third term in the U.S. Senate, despite his earlier pledges not to seek re-election. He released a statement Sunday and also explained his decision in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal under the headline “Why I’m seeking a third Senate Term: I’d like to retire but I think the country is in too much peril.”
“So today, I am announcing I will continue to fight for freedom in the public realm by running for re-election,” Johnson said in his statement. “It is not a decision I have made lightly. Having already experienced a growing level of vitriol and false attacks, I certainly don’t expect better treatment in the future. In order for my campaign to succeed, I will need the support of every Wisconsinite who values the truth and refuses to allow lies and distortions to prevail.”
Johnson, who previously vowed he’d leave office after two terms, was poised to announce his third-term bid last week.
Milwaukee television newsman Matt Smith of WISN Channel 12 tweeted Friday, “A Republican source tells @WISN12News Sen. Ron Johnson will seek re-election and is expected to make his official announcement in the coming days.”
WisPolitics.com published a post Friday afternoon that cited two unnamed sources who said that announcement was expected on Monday.
The possibility has been in the air for months that Johnson would go back on his self-imposed term-limit pledge, which he made during his 2016 re-election campaign. In the last several months Johnson has repeatedly hinted he might run again.
WisPolitics.com described him as “one of the most vulnerable members of the U.S. Senate,” and Johnson has been especially polarizing among political activists. Statements and comments he has made minimizing COVID-19, casting doubt on COVID-19 vaccines, hinting at unsubstantiated claims of irregularities in the 2020 presidential election and more have drawn widespread criticism. This week alone, Johnson’s statements on a talk radio show suggesting, in defiance of all scientific evidence, that surviving COVID-19 would confer greater immunity than a vaccine, was denounced by health care activists.
In repeated Marquette Law School polls, as many as one-third of those responding have said they don’t know enough about him to have an opinion of Johnson. In the poll’sAugust 2021 report, however, Johnson’s favorability was under water (42% viewed him unfavorably, 35% favorably) while the “no opinion” column had dropped to 23%.
Over the course of the last year, a small army of Democrats lined up to run for the seat, most of them focusing their early campaign messages on the assumption that he would be the likely GOP standard-bearer.
Democratic hopefuls include Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, and Outagamie County Executive and former state representative Tom Nelson. Godlewski’s campaign issued a press release touting a poll showing her beating Johnson in a head-to-head race.
“Wisconsin voters will relish the opportunity to fire Ron Johnson, who has used his senatorial power to enrich himself and his wealthiest donors at the expense of the middle class,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler in a statement.
Johnson was first elected in 2010, when he unseated Democrat Russ Feingold in what turned out to be a landmark Republican year and retained the seat in a rematch with Feingold in 2016.
This article was updated on Sunday at 2:08 p.m. to reflect Johnson’s announcement that he will run.
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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.