Late. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Democratic candidate Mandela Barnes shared the stage for the first of two scheduled debates on Friday, as the candidates simultaneously tried to paint each other as extremists while going on the defensive on issues like crime and Social Security.
Barnes, the state’s lieutenant governor, who has branded himself a populist in the race, launched attacks on the issue of crime and police defunding. At the same time, Johnson was forced to answer questions about his past comments on Social Security and his ties to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Here are five takeaways from the Wisconsin Senate debate.
Barnes seeks to divert attacks on crime
Throughout the campaign, Barnes has been forced to defend himself against an onslaught of GOP attacks on crime and law enforcement. Friday night was no exception, as Johnson used the debate to paint the Democrat as a supporter of defunding the police.
“He has a track record of wanting to defund the police, and I know he doesn’t necessarily say that word,” Johnson said. “But he has a long history of being supported by people who lead the effort to fund. He uses code words like [Rep.] Cory Bush said, talk about ‘redistricting,’ ‘excessive police budgets.’ He says it pains him to see fully funded police budgets.”
Barnes, for his part, struck a measured tone on the issue, arguing that the way to prevent crime was to adequately fund schools and ensure there were enough jobs, adding that his administration had invested millions of dollars in public security, law enforcement and crime prevention. effort.
A CNN KFile review published Friday noted that while Barnes has argued that he opposes abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or defunding the police, past interviews and social media activity have suggested otherwise. including instances of him as post supporting getting rid of ICE.
Johnson put on the defense over 6 January
The Republican senator repeatedly found himself on the defensive over his alleged involvement on Jan. 6, including reports of his office’s involvement in a fraudulent election scheme that first surfaced during a hearing held by the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol riot.
During a hearing this summer, the committee showed a text exchange between an aide to former Vice President Pence and a person identified as an aide to Johnson, who told the Pence official that Johnson wanted to hand over an alternate list of voters from Wisconsin and Michigan.
During the debate, Johnson reiterated that he was not involved in such a scheme.
“Let me get things straight here. I had no idea — when I got a call from the attorney for the president of the United States to deliver something to the vice president, did I have a staff member who could help with that? I had no idea what it was. And the thing was that nothing was delivered. The whole episode took less than an hour and I wasn’t even involved. Then again, I had no knowledge of an alternative electoral roll,” he argued.
Barnes also used Jan. 6 to hit back at claims that he doesn’t support law enforcement, invoking “the 140 officers who [Johnson] left behind [at the Capitol] because of a rebellion which he supported.”
Johnson, for his part, said he “condemned” the Jan. 6 riot and, asked if Vice President Pence did the right thing on Jan. 6, said, “Yes. President Biden is now the president of the United States.”
Candidates try to paint each other as extreme on abortion
Both candidates tried to portray the other as out of touch with the issue of abortion. While Johnson suggested that Barnes did not support any limits on the medical procedure, the Democrat slammed his opponent over his praise of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“He celebrated Dobb’s decision,” Barnes said of Johnson. “And he said if women don’t like the laws in their state, like the 1849 criminal abortion ban we have here, he said they can move. I can’t think of a more callous, out of touch or extreme position to take.”
“…the most extreme position here would be no limits on abortion at all, allowing an abortion right up to birth, which is what the governor supports,” Johnson shot back at one point during the debate.
The issue of abortion has galvanized voters after the Roe v. Wade ruling, which affected a number of states that had “trigger” laws on the books. Abortion is virtually illegal in Wisconsin given an 1849 law that was dormant until Roe was overturned.
Social Security comments come back to haunt Johnson
The senator was also forced to defend his earlier comments on Social Security and Medicare, in which he suggested in August that they should be approved annually. Democrats at the time seized on his comments, claiming the senator wanted to eliminate the federal programs.
“Let me make myself very clear: I want to save Social Security. I want to save Medicare. The biggest threat to Social Security and Medicare is the completely out-of-control deficit spending and our growing debt,” he said during the debate.
“What I’ve been saying is we should look at all spending so we can prioritize, and Social Security, Medicare would be at the top [of] priority list. I never ever said I would cut it or put it in the chopping block. It is a fake attack,” he added.
Barnes repeatedly accused Johnson of referring to Social Security as a “ponzi scheme” and comparing it to “candy” Johnson denied the latter point.
Barnes invokes personal stories
The lieutenant governor repeatedly invoked anecdotes from his life and about his family as he sought to paint himself as someone who could relate to the struggles of ordinary Wisconsinites.
Barnes referenced his grandfather in several of his responses, contrasting the opportunities his relative had while living in Milwaukee and how deindustrialization and the offshoring of jobs have hit communities in the state since.
“My grandfather moved here after the Second World War. He got a job as a union steelworker, and that’s the story of a whole lot of black men in the city of Milwaukee. And again, when those opportunities dried up, nothing really came in to fill the void. We again saw the increase in crime which also led to increases [in] confinement, so many other devastating — so many other devastating outcomes because of deindustrialization, because of offshoring,” Barnes argued.
In addition, he talked about his cousin, Dennis, who decided not to go to college and pursue a career as an electrician, while Barnes talked about the issue of rising college tuition costs. And he noted that he had lost several people in his life to gun violence when discussing the scourge of crime in the state.