Maybe Mandela

Republicans laid in wait for the Independence Day weekend. Then they dug out an old video clip of Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes saying something perfectly reasonable about the founding of our country (slavery was a bad thing) and attempted to fill the holiday weekend news lull with distortions about it.

This speaks volumes. Did the GOP machine go after Alex Lasry, Sarah Godlewski or Tom Nelson — Barnes’ opponents for the right to take on the odious Sen. Ron Johnson? Nope. They went after Barnes, which tells me that it’s Barnes they most fear and Lasry the candidate they most want to run against.

That’s because it’s now essentially a two man race between Barnes and Lasry with those two gaining significant separation between Godlewski and Nelson in the most recent Marquette University Law School poll. Godlewski may have an outside shot as she has her own money to spend and since the Roe ruling gives her an advantage as the only woman in a Democratic primary. Unfortunately, I don’t see any path to the nomination for Nelson, who in my view would be the best candidate to take on RoJo. The problem is that money only matters in the primary — whoever gets the nomination will get truck loads of it from national sources — and Nelson doesn’t have any compared to the other three.

Democrats are in an intensely practical mood. We just want to beat Johnson and we’ll vote for whoever has the best chance to do that. But that calculus is now complicated — at least for me — by the question of who can get through the primary.

The coordinated Republican attack on Mandela Barnes suggests he’s the candidate they fear most.

My candidate, Tom Nelson, is an underdog who may just be too far under. So, I have to at least consider voting for one of the others. They all have baggage. Godlewski failed to vote in 2016, even though she coordinated the state for Hillary Clinton. A millionaire (thanks to her husband’s money and there are some issues there) she didn’t pay much in the way of taxes for some years, exploiting the very legal loopholes she deplores on the campaign trail. Up until now she’s also run a lackluster campaign.

Barnes has a slew of intemperate statements including support for defunding the police and abolishing ICE and he served on the board of the Working Families Party, so he’ll be tarred with every hard-left position they have taken, whether he personally supported it or not. He’s since disavowed defunding the police and abolishing ICE, but don’t expect Johnson or Republican independent expenditure groups to be too picky about the details. They’ll use his own words to paint him as a radical.

But nobody has heavier baggage than Lasry, which is why Republicans are laying off of him for now. They want to face him in November. Lasry is a New Yorker by way of Milwaukee. He can’t even decide what his primary residence is, having illegally claimed tax deductions for homes in both New York and Milwaukee. RoJo will pound away at that in the fall.

It’s hard to come up with anything nearly as damaging about Nelson. He’s staked out positions on the far left of the Democratic field — and much further left than my own views — but he hasn’t gone in for defunding the police or anything else that would hurt him much in the general election. His light baggage and his proven ability to win in red and purple parts of the state make him, in my view, the hands down best candidate in November. But he just hasn’t been able to overcome the other candidates’ money.

So, my Democratic friends and I have got a month before the August 9th primary to decide what to do. I will not vote for Alex Lasry in the primary under any circumstances. I may still vote for Nelson if his campaign can show any signs of life in the next few weeks. But now Barnes and Godlewski are back in the mix for me simply because Nelson may not have a chance and either of them is preferable to Lasry.

And on a related matter… The mainstream hard-right media (Fox, the Wall Street Journal, etc.) goes nuts every time some Black person points out that America has not always been a great country in which to be Black. So, in the video they’re using to attack him, Barnes refers to the period of the American Revolution as “awful.” C’mon folks. If your ancestors were held in slavery wouldn’t you say that that period was awful? You might even use a stronger word. Longtime readers of YSDA will know that we are hardly woke around here, but facts are facts. Barnes’ comments weren’t off base.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

2 thoughts on “Maybe Mandela

  1. Nelson’s run to the left was a mistake that doomed him. A pragmatic Democrat from a purple county is good appeal but his folksy ads came off as pandering and he ran hard left on policy. Godlewski has never caught on fire which is a shame but it’s mostly the fault of her campaign which has been lackluster till this moment. There are enough undecideds and the front runners support is soft. It she would have catch a lot of breaks. Barnes is right out for me I won’t vote for any candidate in a Democratic primary who has the support of a third party. He also has a huge glass jaw, he can’t take any criticism at all, still doesn’t have a good answer about his taxes. Won’t talk to any press that isn’t already on his side. Lasry has all the problems you mentioned but is kind of blank slate that’s hard to pin down which could be an asset. Also big Labor and African American support in endorsements.


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