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Ron Johnson remains Wisconsin's stalwart defender of hard-right MAGA politics

Johnson is redder than his state but has vanquished prominent progressive candidates in the past.
Image: Sen. Ron Johnson at a debate in Milwaukee on Oct. 13, 2022.
Sen. Ron Johnson at a debate in Milwaukee on Oct. 13, 2022.Morry Gash / AP file

Republican Ron Johnson has defeated Democrat Mandela Barnes to win a third term as a senator from Wisconsin, NBC News projects. Democrats had targeted Johnson as a vulnerable incumbent to topple in their bid to maintain control of the Senate, but Johnson has yet again prevailed over a progressive competitor in the purple state.

Johnson is a wealthy former plastics magnate who came to power in the tea party wave in 2010. He has evolved into a fervent MAGA lawmaker who has said mouthwash can kill Covid, Jan. 6 wasn’t that big a deal and climate change is “bulls---.”

Johnson’s devotion to Donald Trump went beyond questioning the 2020 election results; his aides tried to deliver letters from fake electors to then-Vice President Mike Pence in a bid to overturn Joe Biden’s victory. (Pence’s staff refused to accept them.)

Johnson is redder than his state, but he has vanquished progressive candidates — the late Sen. Russ Feingold, a progressive lion, twice, and now Barnes. Barnes, 35, the lieutenant governor, came up in the progressive Working Families Party in Wisconsin, positioning himself effectively as the progressive standard-bearer in the Democratic primary and as a champion of policies like Medicare for All and the “green new deal.”

Barnes’ lead in the polls evaporated in late September after Johnson hammered him with a negative ad campaign focused on criminal justice. He never got it back.

Johnson — who once promised to serve only two terms in the Senate — will now act as a stalwart defender of hard-right policy and MAGA-style politics for six more years in Washington.