MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson released a pair of television ads Monday attempting to frame his reelection campaign he announced the day before as being about fixing a broken country, even as Democrats hit him for breaking his pledge not to serve more than two terms and tried to paint him as an out-of-touch millionaire.
The early salvos come in a race in a nearly evenly divided Wisconsin that’s expected to be one of the most expensive and hotly contested in the country with control of the U.S. Senate at play. There is a large field of Democratic candidates fighting both to win the Aug. 9 primary and take hits at Johnson along the way.
Johnson, who announced Sunday he would seek a third term, followed that up with the ads in which he said he decided to run for reelection because “it feels like our country is being torn apart.”
“That’s not how it felt when I ran in 2016,” Johnson says, speaking directly to the camera. “Back then, I intended to serve a second term and go home. But now with Democrats in total control, our nation is on a very dangerous path.”
The ads are part of a six-figure buy and will run for the next several weeks on broadcast and cable stations statewide, said Johnson campaign spokesman Dylan Lefler.
In both spots, Johnson shows images of President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi while making the argument that the country is in disarray. As news footage plays, Johnson references 2020 civil unrest, illegal immigration, defunding police, an increase in crime, sex trafficking and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. He also references increasing killings in Milwaukee, says Kenosha was “ set on fire ” during protests in 2020 and refers to the November Waukesha Christmas parade where six people were killed when police say a man purposefully drove his SUV through the event.
“It’s all leading to a weaker America,” Johnson said.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launched its own digital and cable ad buy Monday, claiming Johnson “has been looking out for himself.” The committee said it was spending five-figures on the ad campaign that would be running on cable channels in Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee and Wausau.
The ad hits Johnson over his support for a provision of the 2017 tax bill that benefitted wealthy Americans. ProPublica reported that the provision Johnson championed resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in deductions to megadonors who funded his campaigns.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party opened a similar line of attack painting Johnson as an out-of-touch millionaire, buying billboards across the state Monday that attack Johnson for paying relatively little in state income taxes in 2017.
The election this year is expected to favor Republicans, as the party not in control of the White House in midterm elections typically fares well.
But Johnson enters the race with low poll numbers in a swing state that former President Donald Trump won by just under 23,000 votes in 2016 and lost by just under 21,000 in 2020. Trump is a strong backer of Johnson and last year encouraged him to run for a third term.