Wisconsin Democrats Are Already Thinking about the 2022 Senate Race

Senator Ron Johnson (R., WI) questions Chad Wolf, acting Secretary of Homeland Security, at a committee hearing in Washington, D.C., August 6, 2020 (Toni Sandys/Reuters)

Politico informs us that Wisconsin Democrats can’t wait to run against incumbent GOP senator Ron Johnson next cycle. Tom Nelson, a former state assembly majority leader, already announced he’ll run in 2022.

We shouldn’t be too surprised about that. Johnson is a conservative senator (lifetime ACU rating 90) and Wisconsin is a swing-y purple state, perhaps trending blue again; we’ll know more when this year’s final vote count is in. Democratic governor Tony Evers beat Scott Walker by a percentage point, after Walker won the previous two elections and a recall election. The House delegation currently splits five Republicans and three Democrats. Wisconsin’s other senator, Tammy Baldwin, won pretty comfortably while running in two cycles that were good for Democrats, 2012 and 2018.

Democrats tell Politico they plan to use Johnson’s stalwart support for President Trump against him in 2022. If Trump wins reelection, that will probably be a galvanizing issue, the same way the Democrats were fired up for the 2018 midterms. But if Biden wins, will Wisconsinites still be thinking about Johnson’s support for Trump in November 2022? Two years from now, the electorate will have lived through a whole new slate of big issues, high-stakes votes, and controversies. It’s hard to believe “Johnson supported the Trump tax cuts back in 2017” or “Johnson voted for Amy Coney Barrett” will be the top-tier Democratic arguments against Johnson.

In 2010, Ron Johnson beat then-incumbent Russ Feingold by four points, a slightly smaller margin than the last few polls. Six years later, almost everyone thought Johnson was a goner — in October, The Nation did a cover piece entitled, “Mr. Feingold Goes Back to Washington.” Whoops. Only one poll had Johnson ahead of Feingold in their 2016 rematch, but Johnson won by 3.4 points.

If Biden wins the presidency, there’s always the chance that he defies the pattern of the midterms in 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018. But if the usual pendulum effect occurs — grassroots Republicans get fired up, grassroots Democrats get complacent — then Ron Johnson looks like he has a decent shot at a third term, presuming he wants one.

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