According to the Marquette Law School poll in June, 36% of respondents were unsure of who they would support in the Democratic primary for United States Senate. These 36% had their opportunity to see the candidates for themselves as they took to the debate stage on Sunday.
The debate, held at Marquette University’s Varsity Theater, featured five of the eight Democratic candidates who will appear on the partisan primary ballot. The candidates featured were: Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks’ Senior Vice President Alex Lasry, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, and founder of the Millennial Action Project Steven Olikara.
These five candidates qualified by meeting the criteria set by TMJ4, the NBC affiliate which broadcast the debate. To qualify, candidates were required to have at least 5% support in the most recent Marquette Law School polling or in any poll approved by FiveThirtyEight, or an average of 5% from the two Marquette polls prior to that, or at least five thousand individual donations to the campaign.
The other three Democratic candidates – Lawyer and former White House correspondent Peter Peckarsky, former State Administrator of the Wisconsin Emergency Management Agency Dr. Darrell Williams, and businessman Kou Lee – failed to qualify.
The debate covered six topics: Inflation, abortion, Title IX, crime, foreign policy and agriculture, and the environment.
The candidates at the debate did not hold back with their attacks on incumbent Senator Ron Johnson. This included Alex Lasry, who also touted his own track record in his work with the Bucks when discussing inflation.
“We pay a $15 minimum wage in the Bucks’ arena. When it comes to creating jobs, we’ve done that. We’ve created ten thousand good-paying union jobs right here in Wisconsin,” the senior vice president of the 2021 NBA champions said. “The problem that we have is that we have a senator right now in Ron Johnson who has no interest in helping working class people. He passed the Trump tax cut which raised taxes on the middle class. What it actually did was (it) took worker deductions away that they could be using right now. We have to make sure that we’re raising wages for people in this country and ensuring that we’re bringing manufacturing back from overseas.”
Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes has led in each edition of the Marquette Law School poll. On the subject of climate, he cited his work as chair of the state’s Climate Change Task Force.
“Now as far as our work on the task force, for the very first time in the history of the state of Wisconsin, we have a clean power plant that was written in conjunction with our office of sustainability and clean energy. It was written with labor and also other environmental advocates to come up with a bold, comprehensive solution. And we are on a track for the first time; this has never happened before,” said the lieutenant governor. “And with that being said, we have people like Ron Johnson who say that climate change is BS. And so we need to get rid of Ron Johnson and end the fossil fuel subsidies, and any politician who profits off of their holdings with oil and gas companies.”
Steven Olikara came into the debate as an outsider, with less than half a percent of support in the most recent Marquette poll. Using the issue of transgender female athletes in sports as an example, he criticized elected officials for attempting to profit from divisive issues.
“They know they can use this as a fear tactic to gin up votes and to gin up money,” Olikara proclaimed. “And that’s why I truly believe that members of Congress need to be focused on really my first people of legislation in the Senate, which is getting big money out of politics because the thing that the general public does not see that I saw walking through the halls of Congress is that these political consultants, they could (sic) care less about your life. What they care about is raising money off of you and they know that this story about trans athletes is something that’s gonna scare people and gin up money. We have to fundamentally change that system at its root, and I’m the only candidate running on that issue. Thank you.”
On the topic of crime, the moderators noted that – according to the Gun Violence Archive – America has seen forty-eight mass shootings in the first seventeen days of July, almost three a day on average. Sarah Godlewski made her case for a ban on assault rifles.
“No, I do not believe we should have weapons of war in our community. Growing up in western Wisconsin with a family of hunters, I will tell you, in talking to my dad about this issue: If you need an AR-15 to go hunting, go back to target practice because that is not what this is about,” the state treasurer said.
The candidates mostly refrained from attacking each other, but when the topic shifted to abortion, Tom Nelson called out Sarah Godlewski for not voting in the 2016 general election.
“We need to expand the Supreme Court because the Republicans have stacked, because of Donald Trump,” said Nelson. “He was able to get three appointments, and he was able to get three appointments because in 2016, people here did not turn out to vote, including Sarah Godlewski. And because of that, we have three Supreme Court justices. The only way to do this is to expand the Senate. By expanding the Senate, we need to elect someone from Wisconsin who can win and go there, get rid of the filibuster.”
Last year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Godlewski did not vote in the 2016 election because she had moved to Wisconsin two months prior and was unsure if she was eligible to register. A voter must have been a resident in Wisconsin for ten successive days prior to an election to be eligible to vote.
Godlewski nonetheless put her rebuttal opportunity to use.
“As the only woman on this stage, I don’t need to be lectured by any man about how important the 2016 election was.”
TMJ4 will also broadcast a debate on July 24 between candidates for the Republican primary for Wisconsin governor. Both primary elections will take place on August 9.
Image courtesy: Element5 Digital / UNSPLASH