Democratic Wisconsin Senate candidate Mandela Barnes joined retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman on Thursday to rail against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, with Barnes timing his attack on his opponent to coincide with a committee hearing on the attack.
“He tried to interfere with an election just because he didn’t like the result,” Barnes told reporters, referring to reports that a top aide for Johnson attempted to send a slate of fake electors to then-Vice President Mike Pence.
The two-term senator has denied any knowledge of the scheme, telling WISN-TV in August that he “had nothing to do with the alternate slate” and “had no idea that anybody was going to ask me to deliver those.”
“My involvement in that attempt to deliver spanned the course of a couple seconds,” Johnson said. “I think I fielded three texts and sent two, and talked to my chief of staff that somebody wants to deliver something. I knew nothing about it. In the end, those electors were not delivered because we found out from the vice president’s staff they didn’t want them delivered. End of story.”
Barnes, who currently serves as Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor, also hit Johnson for downplaying the attack, referring to how his opponent recently said “the ‘armed insurrectionists’ stayed within the rope lines in the Rotunda.”
“I’m sorry — that’s not what an armed insurrection would look like,” Johnson said last week, as he scoffed and used air quotes. “I don’t think they’d be able to reopen Congress about six hours later and complete the counting of electoral votes if there literally had been an ‘armed insurrection.’”
Barnes countered: “I’m not sure if he knows what an insurrection looks like.”
On Thursday afternoon, the House committee investigating Jan. 6 was holding what will likely be the final hearing ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm election. The panel is expected to vote on whether to subpoena former President Donald Trump.
“As many Wisconsinites will be tuned into the final Jan. 6 committee hearing today, we should all be reminded that Ron Johnson is willing to sacrifice our entire democracy for his own benefit,” Barnes said. “Make no mistake — democracy is on the ballot this November.”
Vindman, who played a central role in Trump’s first impeachment inquiry, argued Thursday that the Wisconsin Senate race “could either help secure our democracy or further jeopardize it.”
Vindman, who also served as director of European and Russian affairs for the National Security Council during the Trump administration, went on to note that his personal experience with Johnson goes back to working on Ukraine policy.
“At one point when I first met him, I actually thought he may have been a good actor. He said the right things about supporting Ukraine, about advancing U.S. national security policy to avert this war that we’re now experiencing,” Vindman said, echoing comments he made in March. But, added Vindman, when Johnson “learned that Donald Trump was supportive of Russia, rather than Ukraine, he changed his tune.”
Johnson’s campaign called Vindman’s assertions baseless and inaccurate, noting that the senator has “a long track record of supporting Ukraine.” Johnson swiftly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and has since called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “verifiable war criminal” and supported defense spending to aid Ukraine.
“The war in Ukraine is an unprovoked atrocity against a nation that posed no threat to Russia,” Johnson said in a statement in May. “Vladimir Putin’s naked aggression cannot be tolerated or rewarded by indifference by western democracies.”
Vindman did not elaborate on his remark about Russia, going on to express optimism that Barnes will “come out on top” in November.
He added that he thinks Democrats could maintain their majorities in the Senate and House if candidates “highlight the extremism on the right and indicate that there are actually good policies on the left to serve the communities, to serve all Americans.”
Barnes trails Johnson by an average of 2.8 points, according to a RealClearPolitics moving average of surveys. Johnson’s lead marks a notable shift from August, when polls favored Barnes by an average of 4.3 points.
But Barnes dismissed concerns about the slip in polling on Thursday, telling reporters: “Polls are going to go up and polls are gonna go down. It’s a snapshot in time. Our reality is showing up, meeting people where they are.”
The race is rated as a toss-up by Cook Political Report, but Johnson has a significant leg-up in fundraising — an advantage that incumbents usually enjoy. According to OpenSecrets, Johnson has about $2 million in available cash, while Barnes has less than half that, with $990,000. Both candidates have seen high levels of outside spending, with more than $50 million in spending supporting Johnson’s campaign and nearly $30 million supporting Barnes’ candidacy.