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Recapping Johnson, Barnes first debate in Wisconsin Senate race

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson debates Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in Milwaukee Oct. 7, 2022. (Photo Courtesy PBS Wisconsin)
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson debates Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in Milwaukee Oct. 7, 2022. (Photo Courtesy PBS Wisconsin)
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MILWAUKEE (WLUK) -- Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes battled it out Friday night in their first of two planned debates.

You can watch the full debate here:

The race between Johnson -- who is seeking his third term -- and Barnes -- who would be Wisconsin's first Black senator -- has largely focused on abortion, crime and inflation.

The hour-long debate was hosted by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association in Milwaukee.

Abortion -- a hot topic since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the summer -- sparked contention between the two.

"He celebrated the decision and he said that if woman don’t like the laws of their state like the 1849 criminal abortion ban we have here, he said they can move," Barnes said. "I can’t think of a more callous, out of touch, or extreme position to take."

Johnson defended his support of the supreme court in the decision, and said it should be up to the state.

"The most extreme position here would be no limits on abortion whatsoever," Johnson said. "Allowing abortion right up to the moment of birth, which is what the Lt. Governor supports.”

One of the main focuses for Johnson was his opponent's stance on crime.

"The first thing you do is support law enforcement and unfortunately the Lt. governor has not done that," Johnson said. "He has a record of wanting to defund the police. He says it pains him to see fully funded police budgets.

Barnes backed his beliefs, saying they would make Wisconsin safer.

“What we need to do is make sure that communities have the resources they need to prevent crime from happening in the first place," Barnes said. "That means fully funding our schools. It also means that there are good paying jobs in communities.

Regarding gun legislation, Johnson emphasized the importance of enforcing current gun control laws rather than bringing in new ones and looking at what's causing violence. Barnes claimed that Johnson is bought and paid for by gun lobbyists. Barnes has been called soft on crime, and Johnson says Barnes wants to defund the police -- though Barnes has pushed back on this claim.

When asked about social security, Barnes turned on Johnson, saying he had previously called social security candy and a Ponzi scheme. Johnson pushed back, saying he actually wants to save social security and Medicare.

One of the reporters involved in the debate said that both candidates have said they support increasing minimum wage. Johnson quickly clarified that he would consider possibly increasing minimum wage but worries about eliminating jobs. Above all else, he does not want the federal government involved in wages. Barnes, on the other hand, firmly said that he supports a $15 minimum wage and that raising it would be address inflation.

Regarding gas prices -- which have recently begun to rise again after months of decline --, Barnes claims the issue is a reliance on fossil fuels. He also said Wisconsin needs to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for jacking up prices and said that Johnson is funded by the industry. Conversely, Johnson said that the prices are up because of Democrat's war on fossil fuels.

In a similar vein, regarding climate change, Barnes advocated for the use of solar energy and turning away from fossil fuels. Johnson said the climate has changed and always will; he referred to climate change as an unsolvable problem.

In campaign commercials, Barnes has repeatedly accused Johnson of not being in touch with the middle class, saying he's never worked third shift like Barnes' family. One of Johnson's last comments of the night was clearly stating that he had, in fact, worked third shift and has worked to create more jobs for Wisconsinites.

Barnes concluded by embracing Johnson's characterization of him as "different" and called Johnson "one of the worst parts of a broken system."

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The two will debate again next Thursday at Marquette University.

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