Trailing and eager for a campaign jolt, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee in Wisconsin, is calling the cavalry for reinforcement.
Barnes’ campaign has privately reached out to Barack Obama’s team to get the former president on the trail in the closing days of his challenge to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, two people familiar with the outreach told POLITICO. Democratic officials helping to coordinate midterm campaigns in the state also are in touch with other party luminaries about upcoming visits.
Among other proposals, Wisconsin Democrats have discussed bringing in President Joe Biden, two people familiar with the conversations said. They are in various stages of planning with Vice President Kamala Harris and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Sanders is traveling to Wisconsin in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with the trip, though it’s unclear if he will appear with Barnes and the person did not provide any further details.
“Sen. Sanders believes that in the coming election we need to energize working-class voters and grow turnout,” said Faiz Shakir, a top adviser to Sanders. “He intends to play an active role in making that happen.”
Wisconsin Democrats are also in talks with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who they expect to campaign for Barnes and other top Democrats in the state next week, two other people confirmed.
On Wednesday, Barnes attended an event with First Lady Jill Biden in Milwaukee, where his mother joined her and other teachers’ union members on stage.
The desire among Barnes and Wisconsin Democrats to bring in national figures during the campaign’s stretch run reflects an anxiety from within the state that the chance to flip the Senate seat may very well be slipping away.
Barnes has trailed Johnson in most public polls in recent weeks after facing unrelenting attacks from the right labeling him as soft on crime and an impediment to improving the economy. Rallies with big-name Democrats like the former president, current White House occupants — or both — over the final weeks of the campaign would be an attempt to repair the damage by juicing base turnout, particularly in Barnes’ hometown of Milwaukee.
It’s not unusual for campaigns to lean on famous surrogates down the stretch. Biden himself has been an in-demand surrogate in past cycles (though less so in this one). Obama’s team, meanwhile, is fielding a barrage of interest from across the party and is expected to hit the road in the final sprint before the November midterms.
But Barnes and several Democratic Senate candidates in other states have also been careful about associating themselves with outside figures, particularly as the White House struggles with low- to mid-40 percent approvals.
When Biden traveled to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania during Labor Day weekend, Barnes avoided an appearance with him at that time, while Pennsylvania Senate nominee John Fetterman spoke at an event with Biden and met privately with him.
None of the possible visits have been finalized. Some of the events being discussed and coordinated are envisioned as being separate from Barnes’ campaign. A spokeswoman for the lieutenant governor would not comment on internal discussions and private outreach.
Johnson is viewed as the most vulnerable Republican senator facing reelection next month, owing to persistently low favorability ratings. Barnes, in turn, has portrayed him as a threat to Social Security and an extremist on abortion, as well as assailing his chief of staff’s ties to a fake electors scheme as ending “with a whole-day assault on the Capitol.”
But Democrats still fear that Johnson’s combination of portraying Barnes as too liberal while yoking him to unpopular national leaders in Washington could hurt him among persuadable voters.
The thinking inside Barnes’ camp, two of the people familiar with it said, is that he is already getting pummeled for his ties to out-of-state Democrats, so he might as well try and capitalize on their celebrity and ability to excite potential voters.
To that point, while a new Marquette Law School Poll released Wednesday had the two candidates tight in a contest among registered voters, Johnson extended his lead to 6 percentage points among likely voters. The two men will debate for the second time on Thursday.
Sam Stein contributed reporting
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