Senator Ron Johnson, the Republican from Wisconsin who over the past year has become the main provider of disinformation about elections and the coronavirus pandemic in the Senate, has announced that he will seek re-election for a third term.
Johnson, 66, vowed to step down after two terms, but opened the door for a third term shortly before the 2020 presidential election.
His entry into the race is sure to focus close attention on Wisconsin, a narrowly divided political battleground where Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, faces his tough re-election bid in a race that could determine control of the state’s election systems before the election. Presidential competition 2024.
“Today, I announce that I will continue to fight for freedom in the public sphere by running for re-election,” Johnson wrote in an article published Sunday in the Wall Street Journal.
Johnson’s decision came after the announcement on Saturday by another Republican senator that he was retiring, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, that he would seek a fourth term.
The Wisconsin Senate contest is expected to be among the fiercest in the country. Mr Johnson is hated by Democrats and has drawn a double-digit field of contenders vying for his nomination in the general election. Local Democrats have been raising money for nearly a year to build a turnout machine for the 2022 midterm elections.
When Mr. Johnson first entered politics in 2010 as the self-financed CEO of a plastics company founded by his wife’s family, he identified himself as a legislator in contrast to Senator Ross Feingold, a Democrat who had held public office for 28 years. years. Mr. Johnson took office through the Tea Party wave that year, then defeated Mr. Feingold again in 2016 as Donald J. Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin in 32 years.
All the while, Johnson pledged to serve no more than 12 years in the Senate, but he began to reconsider especially after the 2018 election, when Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives and scored narrow victories in Wisconsin elections. On Sunday, he wrote that when he repeated his two-term pledge during the 2016 race, he did not anticipate the “full Democrat takeover of government and the disastrous policies they have already imposed on America and the world.”
Suddenly, the Wisconsin Republican leader and sole official in the Republican Party wavered from his pledge when he became the subject of an intense lobbying campaign from Republicans in both Wisconsin and Washington. They argued that if he did not run again, the party would jeopardize a seat that could change the balance of the Senate in 2023.
Mr Johnson wrote that he was seeking a new term because “I believe America is in peril,” adding: “As much as I desire relaxation and a quiet retirement, I don’t feel I should.”
This year, Mr. Johnson has been at the forefront of the two strongest strains of disinformation spreading through the Republican Party – false claims about election management and public health.
In the days after the 2020 election, he challenged the victory of Joseph Biden Jr. During a Senate hearing in February, he read in the record a report that incorrectly indicated that the Trump-inspired January 6 attack on the Capitol had been instigated by “false Trump supporters.” In November, he began urging Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin to take control of the state’s federal elections, arguing that they could do so without the governor’s approval, despite decades-old rulings from the US Supreme Court and Wisconsin Supreme Court stating otherwise.
Aside from Mr. Trump, perhaps no senior Republican official has made more false claims about coronavirus and vaccines than Mr. Johnson. He has said he will not be vaccinated, has promoted questionable Covid-19 treatments and refused to encourage others to seek vaccines. In December, he falsely claimed that gargling with mouthwash could help stop transmission of the virus, an assertion that led to a rebuke from the manufacturer of Listerine.
While Mr Johnson’s false allegations have picked up pace recently, they go back years. During his 2010 campaign, he said climate change is caused by “sun spots” and that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere “helps trees grow.”
To Democrats in Wisconsin, Johnson is the most powerful fundraising con man and a figure many see as an embarrassment to the state on the model of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
“It’s an active threat to American democracy, a public health hazard and an economic spoiler for the middle class,” said Ben Wekler, the Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman. “The only redeeming trait in public life is that in 2022, it will inspire Democrats to organize and get out.”
Among the Democrats vying to challenge Mr Johnson is Lt. Col. Mandela Barnes. State Treasurer, Sarah Goodlowsky; Tom Nelson, executive director of Outagamie County, which includes Appleton in Fox Valley in Wisconsin; Alex Lasry, executive director of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, and a handful of less-funded candidates. None of the Democratic contenders are as well known in the state as Mr. Johnson.