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Republicans launch misleading racist ads targeting Wisconsin Senate nominee Mandela Barnes

‘This is pretty much what we expect from Ron Johnson,’ said Wendell J. Harris of the Wisconsin NAACP. ‘He’s made it clear that racism is one of his main tactics.’

By Nick Vachon - September 16, 2022
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Anti-Mandela Barnes ad screenshot

National Republicans and a super PAC associated with Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson are attacking his Democratic opponent in the 2022 election, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, with a stream of deceptive advertisements.

In total, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Wisconsin Truth PAC have spent $7.5 million targeting Barnes, filling Wisconsin airwaves with ads that cast the Democrat as a radical socialist who plans to defund the police, open the southern border, and leave Wisconsinites vulnerable to mass murderers.

The NRSC, apparently taking heed of Fox News’ advice last year about using the event in campaign advertising, is running an ad that connects Barnes’ support for ending cash bail to an attack in the city of Waukesha on Nov. 21, 2021, when a man who had been let out of jail after paying bail drove an SUV into onlookers and participants in the city’s Christmas parade, killing six and injuring 62.

A bill Barnes introduced in 2016 as a member of the state Assembly would have ended cash bail, but, Barnes’ campaign notes in a subheading of a fact check of the ad, “The 2016 Cash Bail Legislation Barnes Sponsored Would Require A Judge To Hold a Defendant in Custody if There Was ‘Clear And Convincing Evidence’ That The Defendant Could ‘Cause Serious Bodily Harm To A Member Of The Community.'” The campaign says that under Barnes’ plan, the Waukesha perpetrator would’ve remained in jail.

Ads attacking Barnes often feature images of members of “The Squad,” the informal group of progressive and nonwhite congressional Democrats originally made up of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and since joined by Jamaal Bowman of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri. The NRSC’s “Waukesha” ad ends with an image of Barnes, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib, and the words “MANDELA BARNES DIFFERENT” morphing into “MANDELA BARNES DANGEROUS.”

Squad members are often the target of racist and sexist slurs: An ad released by the Johnson campaign in August featured a narrator who intoned over images of Bush, Omar, and Ocasio-Cortez: “The socialist Squad is leading the charge to defund our police. No surprise crime is on the rise. Mandela Barnes would eagerly join their Squad.” It said that Barnes would work to defund the police, “open our borders to illegal immigrants,” and “release violent felons without bail.”

“This is pretty much what we expect from Ron Johnson,” Wendell J. Harris, president of the Wisconsin NAACP, told the American Independent Foundation. “He’s made it clear that racism is one of his main tactics.”

Johnson’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TAIF.

An ad paid for by the NRSC and posted on Sept. 12 shows an image of Barnes next to images of Omar and Ocasio-Cortez as graffiti appears next to him on a wall reading “BARNES” and “DEFUND THE POLICE.”

During his Senate campaign, Barnes has consistently rejected the idea of defunding the police and abolishing Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

“I am not a part of the Abolish ICE movement because no one slogan can capture all the work we have to do,” Barnes said in a statement to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in February. “But I do support comprehensive reform in our immigration agencies that protect our borders while establishing a pathway to citizenship and ensuring no one coming to this country has to experience traumas like family separation.”

Barnes told the Wall Street Journal in January: “I don’t support defunding the police. What I do support is investing just as heavily in preventing crime from occurring in the first place, in addition to ensuring law enforcement agencies have the resources they need.”

Barnes has said before that he supports reducing police budgets to better fund social services. In response to a question from a PBS Wisconsin journalist on defunding police departments, during a program that aired in June 2020, a few weeks after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Barnes said:

It’s about looking at priorities of city budgets. I can say, you know, in my hometown of Milwaukee, the police budget has exceeded the entire property tax levy for five consecutive years. I can say that 45% of all departmental allocations go towards the police department in the city of Milwaukee while libraries get about 3%. Neighborhood services get about 2 to 3%. … We need to invest more in neighborhood services and programming for our residents, for our communities on the front end. Where will that money come from? Well, it can come from over-bloated budgets in police departments, you know? … [T]he more money we invest in communities, the more opportunity we offer to residents in all parts of our state, the less money we’ll have to spend on police work. And this isn’t about, y’know, beating up on police officers. This is about recognizing the moment that we’re in and recognizing the needs that exist.

According to recent polling, the race between Barnes and Johnson is tied. A Marquette University poll of registered voters released on Sept. 14 shows Johnson with 49% support and Barnes with 48%, within the margin of error.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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