Mandela Barnes Faces Political Dilemma as Biden Visits Wisconsin

Wisconsin Dem refuses to say whether he’ll make a public appearance with the president

August 31, 2022

Mandela Barnes, the Democrat running against Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, is ducking questions about whether he will make a public appearance with President Joe Biden when the commander in chief visits Milwaukee next Monday.

Barnes’s campaign said he plans to attend Labor Day festivals in "Milwaukee, Madison, and Racine," but declined to say if he will join Biden during the president’s scheduled appearance at the Milwaukee celebration. Barnes’s spokeswoman also declined to comment on the president’s visit.

Biden's visit is causing a political dilemma for Barnes, an outspoken progressive and the state's lieutenant governor, who has been striving to present a more moderate image as he seeks to win over rural and suburban voters. The Senate candidate faces a difficult choice of whether to publicly embrace Biden at a time when the president's approval ratings have plummeted to 40 percent in the state.

"The lieutenant governor is excited to participate in Laborfest events throughout Milwaukee, Madison, and Racine," his spokeswoman Maddy McDaniel told several news outlets this week. "His priority is talking to Wisconsin voters and supporting the labor movement that gave his family a ticket to the middle class."

Biden is scheduled to travel to Milwaukee and Pittsburgh to "celebrate Labor Day and the dignity of American workers," the White House announced on Monday.

Barnes has been working to ditch his reputation as a far-left firebrand, after spending his decade-long political career aligning with the progressive activist movement.

Other Democrats in competitive races have distanced themselves from Biden. John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, declined to join Biden during the president’s trip to Wilkes-Barre this week. Ohio Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan agreed to attend an event with Biden next month, but slammed the president’s student loan forgiveness plan for sending the "wrong message."

Last week, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he’s "not running for the Senate to join the Squad." While his campaign said he supports Biden’s plan to cancel student debt, Barnes’s comments on the issue have been evasive.

The recent pivot is a contrast to Barnes’s political record, and his praise for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and other progressives in Congress.

"People like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Johanna Hayes, they’re bringing big bold ideas to Capitol Hill and they’re changing the status quo," he said in a 2019 speech.

Barnes said last February that he supports ending cash bail nationally, a policy he attempted to pass while serving in the state legislature. He has partnered with groups that support defunding the police, and was a member of a radical anti-Israel organization that advocates for boycotts of the Jewish state.