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Sarah Godlewski: Wisconsin Treasurer jumps into crowded Democratic Senate primary as Ron Johnson freezes GOP field

CNN logo CNN 4/14/2021 By Alex Rogers and Manu Raju, CNN
Ron Johnson wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera © USA Today Network/Getty Images

Wisconsin Treasurer Sarah Godlewski launched her campaign for Senate on Wednesday, jumping into what's expected to be a contentious Democratic primary as Republicans eagerly await word on whether Sen. Ron Johnson will seek a third term.

As Johnson faces pressure from party leaders and former President Donald Trump to run again, his new Democratic foe is seizing on the Wisconsin Republican's remarks surrounding the January 6 attack on the US Capitol as a centerpiece of her campaign.

"Instead of conspiracy theories, we can focus on actually helping families," Godlewski said in her announcement, after showing clips of the insurrection.

Godlewski is the latest addition to a growing Democratic field seeking to take on Johnson, who has frozen the potential Republican field by not deciding whether he'll seek a third term next year. The Democrats already in the race include Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and radiologist Gillian Battino. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Steven Olikara, founder of the Millennial Action Project, are also considering Senate campaigns.

But despite the pressure from some top Republicans to run, Johnson told CNN this week that he has plenty of time to choose.

"I'm under no pressure to decide anything soon," Johnson said.

When asked if he would be in the next few months or maybe longer, he responded, "It will be before the election. There is no reason to decide anytime soon."

In her announcement video, Godlewski sought to draw a sharp contrast with Johnson, who has taken on everyone who blamed Trump for inciting the deadly riot at the Capitol in January: Democrats, the mainstream media and even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Johnson has raised questions about whether Trump supporters were in fact culpable for the violence, earning him the scorn of his Democratic colleagues, while he says he's just seeking the truth.

Godlewski said as senator she would combat climate change and the cost of prescription drugs, raise the minimum wage and work to get rid of the filibuster to pass legislation. But she repeatedly turned to sharply criticize the Wisconsin Republican, including for saying that the rioters "love this country" and "truly respect law enforcement."


Video: 'He says the quiet part out loud': Borger reacts to GOP election official's remark (CNN)

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"He says the attackers would never break the law," Godlewski said. "I don't think you show respect by bludgeoning and killing police officers."

Johnson is the only Republican to hold statewide office in Wisconsin, a state that chose Biden over Trump by less than one point. Some Republicans, including National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Rick Scott, have pressured Johnson to run for another six-year term.

"I try to talk to him every day," the Florida senator told CNN. "I want him to run."

Potential GOP candidates are watching Johnson closely.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who is frequently viewed as a potential Senate candidate, insisted to CNN on Monday night that he was not planning a run.

"No," he said when asked if he would run if Johnson didn't.

Gallagher then added: "Johnson is going to run again. I think he's going to run again."

Johnson has recognized that his seat is a top Democratic target in 2022, telling CNN in March that "people are out to destroy me" after his comments regarding what happened on January 6.

In February, Johnson said that McConnell needed "to be a little careful" after he blamed the former President for the Capitol riot, and claimed the Senate Republican leader did not speak for the Senate GOP conference.

During a high-profile hearing, Johnson inserted into the record a first-person account that tried to shift the responsibility from Trump to a small group of provocateurs, suggesting they turned a largely peaceful protest of the 2020 election into a rampage that left five dead and nearly 140 officers injured. Johnson then repeatedly pushed back on those who said the riot was an "armed" insurrection, saying the FBI is unaware of any arms being confiscated or any shots fired besides from law enforcement.

Johnson has condemned the violence and acknowledged that other weapons besides firearms were used by the rioters. But in an interview last month with CNN, Johnson refused to bat down the Trump lie that the election was stolen.

"I think there are some real issues that have not been answered and I think these are legitimate concerns about the election," Johnson said. "I'm not afraid of the truth, OK?"

a woman sitting at a table: Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski works in her office in the basement at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin in January 2019.

Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski works in her office in the basement at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin in January 2019.
© Amber Arnold/Wisconsin State Journal/AP
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