Published On: Wed, Jul 27th, 2022

Alex Lasry to drop out of Wisconsin Democratic Senate primary

Alex Lasry, a Democratic candidate for Senate in Wisconsin, plans to drop out of that primary race Wednesday, his campaign confirmed.

The decision means frontrunner Mandela Barnes, the state’s 34-year-old lieutenant governor, is solidly positioned to advance to face Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in November.

Lasry, an executive for the Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise, recognized that he was not on a path to victory and that the calculation was made to “seek party unity now,” a source familiar with his decision but not authorized to speak on the matter said in an interview.

A source with the Lasry campaign said the candidate spoke with Barnes on Tuesday and informed him of the decision. Barnes then began calling people after he received the news, the source said. The two are to appear later today in a news conference.

“I am so grateful to Alex for all of the work he’s done to move Wisconsin forward, and I’m proud to have his endorsement,” Barnes said in a statement. “Throughout this race I have always been proud to call Alex a friend. I look forward to continuing that friendship as we hit the trail.”

Lasry’s decision was first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Recent polling had shown a close race between Lasry and Barnes. Last month’s Marquette University Law School poll showed Barnes drawing 25% support of registered Democratic primary voters, while Lasry received 21%. State  Treasurer Sarah Godlewski received 9% support in the poll.

Lasry’s departure from the race comes one day after Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson dropped out. Lasry’s name, however, will still be on the ballot next week despite his decision. Early voting started in Wisconsin on Tuesday, and the state Elections Commission reported that there were already almost 139,000 absentee ballots returned by Wednesday.

His exit came despite immense personal spending on the race. Lasry sunk at least $12.3 million of his personal wealth into his campaign — money that made him the largest ad spender in the race by a significant margin. Lasry spent $10.7 million on TV, radio and digital ads through Wednesday, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact, more than twice the amount spent by Barnes and Godlewski combined.

Lasry had several conversations with Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin in the days leading up to this decision, seeking her guidance, the campaign source said. Lasry also spoke with Gov. Tony Evers beforehand. While the most recent Marquette Law School poll had Lasry and Barnes nearly neck and neck, the campaign source said there were signs that Lasry was slipping in the polls and wanted to move quickly in order to defeat Johnson.

Now the prohibitive favorite in the Aug. 9 primary election, Barnes will be able to turn his attention to the general election against Johnson, who is seeking a third term.

The stakes for Democrats couldn’t be higher. Senate control could hinge on Wisconsin’s Senate race — one of just two Republican-held seats up for grabs in states Biden won in 2020. The race is rated as a toss-up by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Lasry, who is originally from New York, moved to Milwaukee in 2014 after his father, Marc Lasry, purchased the Milwaukee Bucks with a group of investors. The younger Lasry has worked as a senior vice president for the basketball franchise since then.

He launched his campaign in early 2021, touting his work with the organization, his efforts to bring the 2020 Democratic National Convention to Milwaukee, and his support for a higher minimum wage and racial justice and movements. He also branded himself a “Make it in America” Democrat in many ads, earning him the support of many labor leaders in the state.

Lasry, however, never overtook Barnes’ lead in the polls.

Barnes, meanwhile, gained even more momentum in recent weeks, amid a series of high-profile endorsements — including from Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Cory Booker of New Jersey. He was early to brand himself a progressive in the race — a move that some politics watchers have noted have already attracted attacks from Republicans.

Barnes, who goes by his middle name in honor of the former South African president and anti-apartheid activist, grew up in the inner city of Milwaukee and attended college at Alabama A&M, a historically Black university. He worked as a community organizer before winning a seat in the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2012, representing part of the north side of Milwaukee.

After winning the 2018 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, Barnes and now-Gov. Tony Evers toppled Scott Walker, a two-term Republican. That victory made Barnes the first Black person to hold the office and only the second Black person ever to win a statewide race in Wisconsin. He’d be the first Black senator to represent Wisconsin if he wins the general election against Johnson.

Ben Kamisar and Joe Maronski contributed.

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