'Kingmaker' Clyburn endorses in WI Democrat primary against Ron Johnson, but is Johnson running?

Democratic National Convention via AP

House Majority Whip James Clyburn single-handedly guaranteed Joe Biden the Democrat nomination in 2020. Since then, he has embraced his elevated profile and is now trying to do what he can to salvage the midterm elections for Democrats in 2022.


Democrats are not in a good place. It is all but certain that Democrats will lose control of the House and may even lose the Senate in 2022. This makes me very happy but the panic button has been pushed and Democrats are scrambling to do something that will convince voters to keep them in office. Biden won’t be on the ballot and neither will Trump. We saw what happened in Virginia last week and in other parts of the country. How about if James Clyburn gets out in front and endorses a Democrat candidate in the Wisconsin senate race? Today Clyburn did just that. He is throwing his support behind frontrunner Mandela Barnes, who serves as the state’s lieutenant governor.

There are already 12 candidates running in the state’s Democratic primary for Senate.

“Mandela is hands-down the best candidate to defeat Senator Ron Johnson, expand our majority in the United States Senate, and deliver results for the people of Wisconsin,” Clyburn said in a statement.

The Democratic whip noted Barnes’s “historic candidacy” in the same statement. Barnes would be the first Black senator from Wisconsin if elected.

“Mandela is a proven leader who has shown he will always stand up for people from every corner of Wisconsin,” Clyburn said. “The son of a proud union family, Mandela learned firsthand what it takes to work hard and fight to create opportunities for middle-class families.”


There it is. Mandela is black. He has experience in public office, having been a state representative before he was elected as lieutenant governor. He’s young at only 34 years old. Barnes is the first black lieutenant governor. Clyburn was asked by the Biden campaign to endorse Sleepy Joe in the 2020 Democrat primary because Clyburn gets out the black vote. Democrats can’t win in South Carolina with the black vote. Clyburn has been in the House since 1993 and in top leadership since 2007. His endorsement is important for black voters. It will be important for Democrats to check the identity box and promote the fact that Barnes would be the first black senator from Wisconsin.

We’ll see if it sways the Wisconsin Democrats. Barnes is already the frontrunner in the field of 12. So far, Clyburn has a mixed record of success in his kingmaker role this year. Clyburn weighed in on the Democrat primary in Ohio’s 11th House District earlier this year when he endorsed and campaigned for Shontel Brown. She ran against Nina Turner, who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders. Brown won that primary race. However, Clyburn endorsed and campaigned for Terry McAuliffe in Virginia, along with lots of other high-profile Democrats, yet McAuliffe lost.

Barnes’ campaign raised $1.1 million between July 1 and September 30, though a lot of that money came from his own donations to his campaign. Republican Senator Ron Johnson hasn’t even announced his decision on running for re-election. Such a noteworthy endorsement as Clyburn’s so early, plus the fact that he is an endorsement from an out-of-stater, shows how concerned Democrats are right now. Joe Biden is a disaster in the White House and he’s dragging the party down with him. Johnson said last week that he’ll be making a decision soon.


Republican Party chair Paul Farrow said he’s feeling certain that Johnson will decide to run. If Johnson decides not to run, though, the chair is confident that another Republican would win the seat.

Speaking with reporters Friday, state Republican Party chair Paul Farrow said he’s confident other potential GOP candidates waiting in the wings would be able to ensure Republicans hold onto the U.S. Senate seat if Johnson, R-Oshkosh, does not run for reelection.

“I think they would be formidable opponents if Sen. Johnson decides not to run, but I am hanging my hat that I think he is going to run for reelection and will be able to be a strong voice for us in the U.S. Senate moving forward,” Farrow said.

Polling hasn’t been great for Johnson.

The poll found that 38% said they would definitely or probably vote for Johnson if those elections were held today. Fifty-two percent said they would vote for someone other than Johnson, and 10% said they don’t know or declined to answer.

Republican National Committee regional communications director Chris Walker downplayed incumbent-related concerns. He pointed to the elections in Virginia and New Jersey as a reason to think that a Republican with a strong, serious campaign can keep the seat a Republican one. Biden won both of those states with healthy margins while he won Wisconsin with just 1 percentage point. Wisconsin has performed as a swing state in recent years.


Johnson is a two-term incumbent. We’ll see how far Clyburn’s endorsement goes and if it is enough to get black voters out to the polls. It is easy to imagine he’ll go ahead and run again, especially with the prospects of a GOP majority in the Senate on the horizon.


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