Dems Win Midterms; Barnes Defeated by Racist Ads

Democrats in Wisconsin and across the country are celebrating the results of the midterm elections. After hearing dire predictions for months, Democratic candidates won an historically high number of contested offices in a midterm election, bucking the longstanding trend of voters turning against the party occupying the White House.

Wisconsin Democrats earned wins for Governor Tony Evers/Lieutenant Governor Sara Rodriguez and Attorney General Josh Kaul, with apparent victories by Secretary of State Doug La Follette and La Crosse County Sheriff candidate John Siegel.  Brad Pfaff, whom the Republicans expected to trounce, turned in a strong performance, getting 48% of the vote in his 3rd Congressional District race against insurrectionist Derrick van Orden.

Mandela Barnes lost an extremely close race to incumbent Senator Ron Johnson—see Ben Wikler’s analysis below.

Nationwide, the predicted red wave simply did not happen. Democrats will again control the US Senate;  their bid for retaining control of the House is still alive, although likely to fall just short. This is an outstanding performance given the history cited above.


Here is DPW Chair Ben Wikler’s response to the election results:

Dear fellow Wisconsin Democrats,  

Wow. We did it. You, Tony Evers, all of us—we did it.  

We can finally exhale.  

Governor Evers won a second term, now joined by Sara Rodriguez. Dems in the State Legislature blocked the GOP’s quest for supermajorities in the State Legislature, and the Governor’s veto pen is intact. 

Against overwhelming odds, the path to democracy in Wisconsin survived. 

Mandela Barnes, written off as doomed by national observers, soared above the polls and came within one percentage point of defeating Ron Johnson—in a year when, it appears, every single incumbent senator in both parties will win re-election, and after three self-serving billionaires poured $29 million into some of the most vicious, racist attack ads our state has ever seen. It’s wrenching to fall just short—but Mandela surged in the final weeks, and did better than experts thought possible.  

In fact, experts underestimated Wisconsin Democrats’ strength across the board this year.  

The last time a Democrat won a governor’s race in our state during a Democratic presidency was sixty years ago, by a single percentage point. Governor Evers and Lt. Governor Rodriguez won by 3.4%. Attorney General Josh Kaul and Secretary of State Doug La Follette won statewide as well. Ask any political scientist: in 50-50 Wisconsin, where midterms nearly always swing against the president’s party, these things aren’t supposed to happen.  

There are many reasons why this came to pass. Republicans ripped away a basic freedom—the power to make decisions over one’s own body—and threatened many more. The GOP’s open hostility to democracy galvanized a counterreaction. Our candidates lived their values, which matched Wisconsin’s values. 

———————————————————————————————   Many thanks to each and every volunteer who knocked doors, made phonecalls, or texted to make sure that we got out the vote. And thanks to all DPW Field Staff who put in a lot of hard work to help make these victories possible!

Here’s to victory in Wisconsin’s Spring 2023 Supreme Court Justice election!