Wisconsin Republicans are quietly weighing backup plans if Sen. Ron Johnson decides not to run for reelection next year, The Hill reported on Sunday.
“I’m not so sure he wants to run, but at the end of the day he doesn’t want to turn everything over to [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer,” Wisconsin state Assembly Leader Robin Vos, a Republican, told the news outlet. “He’s probably the strongest candidate that we have.”
However, other Republicans in the state are emphasizing indications that Johnson is leaning toward running, highlighting the senator’s popularity among Wisconsin’s conservative base and the fact that he raised $1.2 million in the second quarter, which was more than the Democratic Senate hopefuls in the state.
“I would recommend to everybody to not underestimate Ron Johnson,” GOP strategist Brandon Scholz said. “He is very much in tune with what he wants to do and when he wants to do it.”
Others remain skeptical that Johnson is leaning toward running, pointing to the fact that he currently only has a finance director on his staff on the political side, while at this point in the campaign six years ago he had a full staff, including a campaign manager and a communications team.
Democrats insist Johnson is vulnerable for several remarks he made this year, including saying the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was “peaceful,” for completely dismissing climate change at a Republican luncheon, and for questioning the effectiveness of masks in stopping the spread of coronavirus.
However, Wisconsin Door County Republican Party chairwoman Stephanie Soucek said that “when somebody in office is getting beat up a lot, it’s probably because they’re doing something worthwhile because they’re getting a reaction from the other side.”
But still, some Republicans are quietly concerned that Johnson’s controversies could harm him in the swing state, with a GOP strategist saying that “we all know how purple it has become at this point. That might help you in the primary [but] you kind of have to almost tone down those culture war issues so that you’re positioned for that general election here.”
President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last year in Wisconsin by less than a percentage point after Trump four years earlier had narrowly become the first Republican presidential candidate to flip the state in decades, winning by a similar narrow margin.
The 2018 midterms were also decided by less than a percentage point, when in the race for governor, Democrat Tony Evers beat his GOP rival, then-Gov. Scott Walker.
Other Republican names have been considered as possible replacements for Johnson, including Rep. Mike Gallagher, Marine veteran and former Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson, former Rep. Sean Duffy and former Senate candidate Eric Hovde.