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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Barnes seen as favorite for Aug. 9 U.S. Senate primary following three candidate dropouts

Alex Lasry, Sarah Godlewski and Tom Nelson all exited the race in late July, leaving Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes as the frontrunner in Wisconsin’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Remaining candidates include Barnes, Steven Olikara, Peter Peckarsky, Kou

Election information for UW-Madison students is available at For more information on ballots, registration or polling places regarding the Aug. 9 partisan primary, visit

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is the favorite in Wisconsin’s upcoming Democratic Senate primary after a dramatic week of candidate dropouts. 

Bucks executive Alex Lasry, Wisconsin Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson all endorsed Barnes in the Senate primary after suspending their campaigns last week. 

These recent endorsements as well as support from high-profile lawmakers such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Tony Evers make Barnes the likely victor. 

“This week has demonstrated what it looks like when we come together for a goal that is greater than ourselves,” Barnes said after Godlewski’s endorsement on July 29. “We are building a coalition that crosses generations, crosses racial divides and political divides.” 

In the latest Marquette Law School poll from late June, Barnes has 25% support from Democrats and independents who lean democratic. Lasry was second with 24%, followed by Godlewski at 9% and Nelson with 7% of the vote. 

Millennial Action Project founder Steven Olikara, former investigative journalist Peter Peckarsky, restaurant owner Kou Lee and former Wisconsin Emergency Management administrator Darrell Williams each received less than 1% of the vote in the June poll. 

Candidates were originally supposed to participate in an Aug. 3 town hall hosted by WISN-12. However, the town hall was canceled. 

Olikara, who attended the town hall despite its televised cancellation, answered voters' questions on issues ranging from gun violence to money in politics Wednesday. The town hall was live-streamed on his social media accounts. 

“This is what it looks like for me to serve as your U.S. Senator,” Olikara said at the event. “I am going to show up. I am not going to hide. I am going to respond to questions whether they are easy questions or tough questions.” 

While Barnes' nominations give him a leg up, the race is not over. According to the Marquette Law School, at least 36% of potential Democratic primary voters remain undecided as of late June.

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Barnes, Lasry, Godlewski, Nelson and Olikara previously faced off at last month’s Democratic Senate primary debate hosted by TMJ4. The candidates discussed issues including abortion rights, stricter gun safety regulations and the climate crisis.

Looking ahead

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson registered a 37% favorable and 46% unfavorable rating among Wisconsin voters in the June Marquette Law School poll. That same poll found Barnes ahead of Johnson by two points — 46% to 44% — in a general election matchup. 

Though Democrats can rewrite Senate rules and eliminate the filibuster with just 50 votes, they must pick up at least two seats to override intraparty opposition from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). With Ron Johnson's popularity low, Wisconsin is a prime target for a Democratic pickup.

If either Barnes or Olikara win in November, they would make history as Wisconsin’s first Black or Asian senator, respectively. 

Any voters who cast an absentee ballot for a candidate who dropped out of the Senate race may change their vote under Wisconsin law by requesting to spoil their ballots and fill out a new one by this Thursday, Aug. 4.

Options to register online or by mail for the Aug. 9 primary election have passed. However, voters can still register at their municipal clerk's office by Aug. 5 or register the day of the election at their polling place with a valid photo ID and proof of Wisconsin residence. 

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