MADISON (AP/WLUK) — Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson defeated Democrat challenger Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in the midterm elections, keeping a seat in GOP hands while turning back Barnes’ attempt to make history as Wisconsin’s first Black senator.
The win for Johnson, one of former President Donald Trump’s biggest backers, came after Trump narrowly lost the state to President Joe Biden two years ago.
"I just want to give you guys a sense that this race is over," said Johnson on Tuesday.
Johnson spoke on election night and thanked everyone who assisted in his race.
"Let's wait for all the numbers to come in, and then we'll declare a victory tomorrow morning," said Johnson.
It was a different scene Wednesday from the night before where Sen. Johnson held his watch party for the U.S. Senate race.
A victory speech for the Senator was planned bright and early at 10 a.m. Wednesday. But after FOX 11 reached out to his campaign to confirm, Johnson's campaign said it was canceled.
The race was still too close to call as of Wednesday morning.
“The votes are in,” Johnson said in an email statement. “There is no path mathematically for Lt. Gov. Barnes to overcome his 27,374 vote deficit. This race is over.”
While Barnes did not speak on election night, he did talk on Wednesday.
Barnes, surrounded by his parents, supporters and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, conceded defeat in his hometown of Milwaukee midday Wednesday at the same location where he launched his campaign in July 2021.
“I can honestly say I fought the good fight,” Barnes said.
Barnes, the 35-year-old lieutenant governor and former state representative, vowed to stay involved.
"I did have a chance to talk to Senator Johnson, reminding him every single person in this state has a right to achieve their dreams," he said.
“Unfortunately, we didn't get over the finish line this time," Barnes said. "But I know this movement means so much for all of us. Just because we didn't get across the finish line doesn't mean it's over.”
The race was one of a handful of tight Senate contests across the country that could determine which party holds majority control.
Johnson said he expected Republicans to do better in the midterm election, saying Democratic policies are “not good for America.”
Johnson won by just over a point, a more narrow victory than his two previous wins in 2010 and 2016.
“I’m surprised in Wisconsin my race was this close, I am," Johnson said on WISN-AM.
Roughly half of Wisconsin voters said the economy is the most pressing issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 3,200 voters in the state.
Nearly all the state’s voters say inflation was a factor in how they cast their ballots. Roughly half named it as the single most important factor. Republicans were more likely to capture those voters, with about two-thirds of them casting ballots for Johnson.
Wisconsin voters say their families are being hit by the economy personally, with roughly a third saying they are falling behind. Those voters were also more likely to cast a ballot for Johnson.
Barnes was seeking to become the first Black senator from Wisconsin. Johnson won a third term after previously vowing not to serve more than two. The 67-year-old Johnson said on WISN that he was ready to “hang it up” after two terms, but sidestepped a question about whether he would seek a fourth term in six years.
“What I’d like to do is make sure whoever is in leadership, that they commit to restoring function to Congress," he said.
Johnson has been a top target for Democrats in swing state Wisconsin. He was first elected in 2010, as part of the tea party wave, and won reelection in 2016.
Johnson is one of former President Donald Trump's biggest backers. He ran this campaign trying to paint Barnes as being weak on crime with a thin resume who will be a rubber stamp for the national Democratic agenda.
Barnes, like many Democrats nationally, tried to make the race about abortion, highlighting Johnson’s long support for overturning Roe v. Wade, and arguing that the millionaire Johnson was out of touch with the concerns of the middle class.
This will be Senator Johnson's third term.
"I know that you're all disappointed and I'm disappointed too because we all deserve better," said Barnes.
"The truth has prevailed over the lies, over the character assassination," said Johnson.