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Five Takeaways From the Wisconsin Senate Debate


“I embrace that,” Mr. Barnes said, attempting to grab the mantle of change.

For the reason that Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion has been a highly emotional issue in Wisconsin, home to a law from 1849 that bans abortion with almost no exceptions. Mr. Barnes sought to place Mr. Johnson on the defensive over the problem, describing the damaging or heart-wrenching circumstances under which women sometimes seek abortions, and casting the senator’s opposition to abortion rights as “dangerous, out of touch and extreme.” That could be a message Democrats are deploying in races across the country, and particularly on the airwaves.

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Mr. Johnson was pressed for specifics, and he said he supported contraception and in-vitro fertilization, together with calling for a state referendum to find out “at what point does society have the responsibility to guard life,” something Mr. Barnes dismissed as unrealistic.

But Mr. Johnson also embraced a problem that’s animating Republican ads in major races: crime. He repeatedly questioned Mr. Barnes’s commitment to funding law enforcement, and sought to conjure memories of protests that turned destructive in the summertime of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Mr. Barnes emphasized his commitment to public safety.

Many Democratic officials and candidates rejected the “defund the police” slogan way back. But Mr. Johnson sought to connect it to Mr. Barnes anyway on Friday, whilst he conceded that Mr. Barnes doesn’t embrace that language.

“He has a record of wanting to defund the police, and I do know he doesn’t necessarily say that word,” Mr. Johnson said. “But he has a protracted history of being supported by folks that are leading the trouble to defund.”

He accused Mr. Barnes of using “code words” like “reallocate over-bloated police budgets.”

Mr. Barnes did suggest in a 2020 television interview that some funding be diverted from “over-bloated budgets in police departments” to social services. Since then, he has said explicitly that he doesn’t support “defunding the police,” and has emphasized that law enforcement must have essential resources.

“I’ve spent my entire profession working to make communities safer,” Mr. Barnes said, emphasizing that “there’s so rather more we’d like to do to maintain guns out of the hands of violent criminals.”

He also questioned whether Mr. Johnson’s support for law enforcement prolonged to the officers who were attacked through the Capitol riot, which Mr. Johnson has minimized.

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