Meet Wisconsin's 2022 U.S. Senate primary candidates

Eight Democrats and one Republican explain why they're running for the U.S. Senate and taking on two-term incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson.

By Steven Potter | Here & Now

July 13, 2022

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A three-by-three collage show screenshots from interviews conducted with nine primary candidates for the U.S. Senate in the 2022 election.

(Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

There’s no shortage of candidates vying to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in the 2022 midterm elections.

In all, there are eight Democrats on the August 9 primary ballot. Among them are Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor and state treasurer, a professional sports team vice president, a restaurant owner, a county executive, a political nonprofit leader, an attorney and an emergency management administrator.

There’s also a Republican candidate – a retired Milwaukee educator – who’s looking to unseat Johnson in the primary.

Here & Now spoke with all nine candidates about how they would address major issues facing the nation, including the economy, jobs and inflation, abortion and healthcare, gun violence and confidence in the election system. Each candidate also shared their legislative priorities and, of course, why they want the job as a U.S. Senator for Wisconsin.

Here’s what every candidate – presented in alphabetical order – had to say.


Mandela Barnes
Democratic primary candidate

Lieutenant governor and former state lawmaker Mandela Barnes said he wants to ensure the opportunity to succeed is available to everyone.

“I’m running for the U.S. Senate to rebuild the middle class. Our industries are in crisis. Manufacturing is suffering. Our small family farmers are being squeezed out by large corporate monopolies,” he said, adding that he wants to “make sure that the opportunity that I had growing up is available to every person in every county, in every ZIP code all across the state.”


Sarah Godlewski
Democratic primary candidate

State treasurer Sarah Godlewski says there are a number of economic and quality-of-life issues she would take on if elected to the U.S. Senate.

“I had to get in this race because it’s clear working families in Wisconsin need a voice in the U.S. Senate table, someone who’s going to fight for whether it’s the cost of child care or lowering the price of gas or making sure we have affordable senior care or taking care of the environment,” she said. “And those things are not happening with Ron Johnson. And I want to change that.”

Update: Sarah Godlewski ended her campaign for the U.S. Senate on July 29.

Alex Lasry
Democratic primary candidate

Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry said the current slate of U.S. senators aren’t governing in a way that benefits American and Wisconsin residents.

“I want to make sure that we’re able to get things done. I think one of the biggest frustrations that I’ve had with Washington and I think all of us have had with Washington over the last number of years, is the fact that we’ve got a lot of people in office who just aren’t getting things done,” he said. “I think that’s where a lot of voters’ frustration are. And that’s something I’ve been able to do my entire career, whether it’s raising wages, creating thousands of good paying union jobs and bringing investment to this state.”

Update: Alex Lasry ended his campaign for the U.S. Senate on July 27.

Kou Lee
Democratic primary candidate

Entrepreneur and restaurant owner Kou Lee is running for U.S. Senate to represent those he feels have been forgotten in today’s politics.

“I want to fight for the little people,” he said. “I want to fight for the American people. I want to make sure that the boys and girls who grew up in a place where [they were] disadvantaged or they don’t have much – I want to provide hope to those young people. I want to provide hope to the Asian and minority groups that we could achieve an American dream and that we could rise to the highest level to help our country to protect democracy.”


Tom Nelson
Democratic primary candidate

Former state lawmaker and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said election experience sets him apart from his Democratic opponents, while the incumbent doesn’t have Wisconsin residents’ best interests in mind.

“People are just fed up with Ron Johnson. He doesn’t represent most of us – if not all of us,” he said. “I’m the only one from a red part of the state who has won election reelection six times – three as a legislator and three as a county executive. So, I can beat Ron Johnson.”

Update: Tom Nelson ended his campaign for the U.S. Senate on July 25.

Steven Olikara
Democratic primary candidate

National political organization founder and former chief executive Steven Olikara said he knows how to get legislation passed in the U.S. Senate.

“I’ve focused on the root issues of why our politics are not producing good results for us, why members of Congress are working for big money, special interests and not for the vast majority of Americans,” he said. “My organization activated a generation of rising young legislators and so I’m proud to bring the most federal legislative experience to this race.”


Peter Peckarsky
Democratic primary candidate

Intellectual property attorney Peter Peckarsky said he’s the right choice because of his ability to address a wide range of issues at the federal level.

“I want to be a U.S. senator because the country faces a lot of problems,” he said. “I’m seriously qualified to take Ron Johnson’s policies apart on and off the debate stage and to represent all the people of Wisconsin on the many critical, complicated, technical and legal issues we face at home in cyberspace, national security and foreign affairs.”


David Schroeder
Republican primary candidate

Former educator and postal worker David Schroeder is running to give Republican voters a choice other than Ron Johnson, even as he admits this candidacy is a longshot.

“[In] the first six years in the Senate, [Sen. Johnson was] a deficit hawk. He’s figuring out how to reduce the deficit, get rid of social programs,” he said. “[Then] Trump gets elected and all of a sudden he’s passing a tax cut that adds $1.7 trillion to the deficit. All the deficit talk was just smokescreen stuff. He benefited quite a bit from that tax cut. Then covid hits and he’s passing out or promoting false and harmful information about the vaccines and about covid. He violated his oath of office at least once.”


Darrell Williams
Democratic primary candidate

Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management Administrator Darrell Williams said his professional experience, which includes working as a principal and serving in the military, provided him with wide-ranging leadership skills.

“For me, this is not a matter of an election where this is the name you know or the person who has the most money,” he said. “This is about someone with some knowledge, skills and background in those particular areas and someone who can work with people at the national level and get us the best results right here within the state of Wisconsin.”


All nine of these candidates, along with incumbent U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, will be on the ballot in the Aug. 9 primary election. More information about these candidates, as well as those running for other federal and state seats in Wisconsin, is available from Wisconsin Vote.

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