Sparks fly in Johnson’s, Barnes’s final Senate debate

Ron Johnson (left) and Mandela Barnes in their first Senate debate (file image)
Ron Johnson (left) and Mandela Barnes in their first Senate debate (file image)
Published: Oct. 13, 2022 at 4:53 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 13, 2022 at 9:24 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Fireworks flew Thursday during the second and final debate for Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seat.

The debate was held a day after a new Marquette University Law School Poll showed Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson with a 6 point lead over Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, his Democratic challenger.

It was suspected that Barnes was going to be much more aggressive in this debate, knowing that he needs to make up some ground. But Johnson fired right back as well, and at times things got personal. It was the type of debate where the moderators even had to warn the audience, numerous times, to remain quiet.

“I do want to remind the audience to, please, no more interruptions.”

On the stage, it was just as contentious, especially during an exchange on inflation that morphed into gas prices.

“I fully understand how high the cost of gas is, because I fill my own gas tank. I drive myself around the state, unlike Lt. Governor Barnes, who is chauffeured around by State Patrol costing taxpayers over $600,000,” Johnson said.

“The senator should be so audacious as he fails to mention that taxpayers had to flip the bill for his private plane trips between D.C. and his $3 million mansion in Florida,” said Barnes.

Johnson responded, “So that is a total lie. I never was reimbursed for any private jet travel.”

“I just want to clarify that it’s OK when he does it but not for anybody else,” Barnes said.

On the issue of abortion, each candidate accused the other of being more extreme.

“Senator Johnson has sponsored eight different national abortion bans. He sponsored abortion bans that had no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. That position is too out of touch and extreme for Wisconsin,” Barnes said.

“The extreme position when it comes to abortion is the one that the Lt. Governor holds which would allow abortions up to moment of birth. Think of that. That is not where Wisconsinites are,” said Johnson.

When asked about the 75,000 undocumented immigrants living and working in Wisconsin, many of whom also pay taxes:

“We should process them immediately into a path towards citizenship,” Barnes said. “We have to make sure people who have been here, who have been working here, people who have been contributing, should have a path to citizenship if they so choose.”

“Unfortunately, Lt. Governor Mandela would want to give illegal immigrants a driver’s license. Gee, what do you need to vote? Oh, that would be a driver’s license,” Johnson said. “And in-state tuition, that would be more of a magnet for more illegal immigration, which is why we have to secure our border first.”

Even when given a chance to compliment each other, that too didn’t go well.

“I do think the Senator has proven to be a family man, and I think that’s admirable,” Barnes said of his opponent.

Johnson answered, “He had a good upbringing. I guess what puzzles me about that is with that upbringing why has he turned against America? Why does he find America awful?”

The senator’s response drew boos from the crowd.

Friday night there is another debate, this one in Madison, as the Democratic and Republican candidates for Wisconsin governor square off. You can watch that debate on WBAY-TV 2 and at


The stakes are still high in Wisconsin’s race for U.S. Senate as the candidates face off in their second and last debate.

Thursday’s debate comes a day after the release of a new Marquette University Law School Poll that showed Republican Sen. Ron Johnson expanded his lead over his Democratic challenger, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

One thing to watch Thursday night is whether Barnes decides to turn up the heat and go on the attack, knowing he has to make up some last-minute ground against the incumbent.

That poll had Barnes down by 6 percentage points, and much of that difference is coming from independents, who tend to decide their vote closer to an election.

The first debate was relatively civil considering how negative the campaign has otherwise been.

Barnes has focused much of his campaign on the issue of abortion, including a “Ron Against Roe” statewide tour, in recent weeks. Johnson says he would support exceptions to Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban for rape and incest. He also supports a statewide referendum on the issue.

Last Friday’s debate included an exchange on crime, which Johnson has made an issue of in many attack ads against Barnes.

“What we need to do is make sure communities have the resources to prevent crime from happening in the first place,” Barnes argued. “That means fully funding our schools. It also means making sure there’s good-paying jobs in communities.”

“He says it pains him to see fully funded police budgets. So that’s his views. Whenever I see a police officer, I go up to them and say ‘Thank you for your service,’ and if I have time I say, ‘Don’t be dispirited by the loud few who are trying to defund you,’” Johnson said.

The one-hour debate is being held in Milwaukee inside Marquette University’s Varsity Theater at 6 P.M.

Jason Zimmerman will be paying close attention to what’s said and have a report on Action 2 News at Ten.

Johnson and Barnes meet for their second and final debate Thursday night