(NewsNation) — There is generally no love lost between politicians during their campaigns or debates, but a Wisconsin Senate race between Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Sen. Ron Johnson has been particularly contentious.
Barnes, a Democrat, has painted Johnson has an extremist Trump supporter who helped fan the flames of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Johnson, a Republican and incumbent Senator, has for his part called Barnes a left-wing radical who has “turned against America.”
Decision Desk HQ has tabbed the race as leaning “likely Republican” and gives Johnson a 91% chance of defeating Barnes. Decision Desk HQ polling averages show Johnson as having a 4.1 point lead over Barnes.
Democratic strategist Ameisha Cross said this is because Johnson has capitalized on voter anger.
“Whether it be conversations about policing and the rise in crime, whether its about inflation, he is speaking to the kitchen table issues of sorts,” Cross said.
Cross said it has also not helped Barnes in the polls that he has not spoken to the Democratic base well and has been playing “nice in the sandbox” with Johnson.
For example, during one of their debates the candidates were asked to say something they found admirable about their opponent; Barnes said he found it admirable Johnson was a family man, Johnson’s response was wondering why Barnes had “turned against America” despite him having a “good upbringing.”
“You have to meet him where he is, fight fire with fire,” Cross said.
Republican strategist Matt Gorman said he doesn’t believe the Wisconsin race will be as close as races in Georgia and Pennsylvania, particularly because Johnson has played to voters so well on the issue of crime, something Republicans nationwide have put at the center of their campaigns.
“If you talk to folks in both parties, I think they’re allocating resources elsewhere, Pennsylvania and a couple of other states. Republicans feel pretty good about Ron Johnson right now,” Gorman said.
But both Gorman and Cross said a potential campaign visit to Wisconsin by former President Barack Obama could drum up support for Barnes and make the race tighter.
“Former President Obama is the strongest surrogate the Democratic party currently has, his popularity is extremely high, it hasn’t gone down, he can bring out younger voters, he can definitely bring out the Black vote,” Cross said. “That is a key essential vote when it comes to all of these state races when it comes to Democratic party success.”