Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes has won Wisconsin’s Democratic Senate primary, NBC News projects, setting off a crucial battleground state showdown with incumbent Republican Ron Johnson in the race to officially determine control of the Senate.

Barnes’ victory was certain after three of his main competitors were out of the running in recent weeks. Barnes and his supporting groups have already targeted Johnson, who easily won his primary with a barrage of television and digital commercials in anticipation of the November matchup.

Wisconsin’s Senate race will be the closest and most-watched race in the country, and control of the Senate may hinge on the outcome—one of just two Republican-held seats up for grabs in states that Joe Biden won in 2020. The race has been assessed by the non-partisan Cook Political Report as booming.

A Marquette University Law School poll from June showed a tight hypothetical race between Barnes and Johnson. The poll – before many Democrats were out – showed Barnes to be within the margin of sampling error, from 46% to 44%.

The same poll decreased the opinion of Wisconsin voters about Johnson, the two-term incumbent, with only 37% of registered voters having a favorable opinion of him, while 46% had an unfavorable opinion. There was an opinion.

Johnson has attracted controversy in recent years over false or dubious claims litigation. He downplayed the January 6, 2021 riots by falsely claiming that there was “no violence” from the Senate side of the Capitol that day. He has also attracted criticism for promoting the use of unproven COVID treatments such as ivermectin, and falsely claiming that using mouthwash can protect against the coronavirus.

Johnson, 67, who was elected to the Senate in 2010, had promised to serve only two terms, but reversed course in January when he, after months of deliberation, ran for re-election. decided to run.

Democrats on Tuesday morning rolled out new ads attacking Johnson, trying to portray him as out of touch, before the final votes for Barnes were even cast.

Barnes, 35, was quick to brand himself a progressive — a move that has already attracted attacks from Republicans, who have repeatedly pointed to a photo of him holding a “eliminate ICE” shirt.

The Barnes campaign made it clear in the primary that he did not support the movement, nor did he support “defund the police,” but Republicans are certain to continue the attacks in the general election.

Barnes emerged as a negative front in the primary last month after three of his main competitors dropped out of the race and backed him.

His main rival was Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Larry, who, despite sinking at least $12.3 million of his personal wealth into his campaign, never left him behind in the polls. Larry dropped out on July 27 and immediately backed Barnes, calling him “the best person to be able to beat Ron Johnson”. The day before, Outgame County Executive Tom Nelson left the race, and a few days later, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski also, effectively clearing the field for Barnes, whom they both supported.

Barnes gained momentum this summer with a series of high-profile endorsements — Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey and others, as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Barnes, who goes by his middle name in honor of former South African president and anti-apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela, grew up in the inner city of Milwaukee. He attended college at the historically black University of Alabama A&M, and worked as a community organizer before winning a seat in the state legislature in 2012, representing part of Milwaukee’s North Side.

After winning the 2018 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, Barnes and Tony Evers overtook two-time Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The victory made Barnes the first black person to hold office and only the second black person to win a statewide race in Wisconsin. If he wins the general election, he will be the first black senator to represent Wisconsin.

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