GREEN BAY, Wis. (NBC 26) — The fight for control of the U.S. Senate might come down to Wisconsin.
The current race between incumbent Senator Ron Johnson and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes has kept the state in the national spotlight as our airwaves are flooded with ads trying to persuade your vote.
Democrats see this race as a chance to flip a seat and expand their majority but if Johnson is reelected, Republicans see this as an opportunity to regain control of the Senate.
In an NBC 26 exclusive interview, we asked Sen. Johnson why he decided to run for a third term in the U.S. Senate.
"I think because of how divisive this country has become," says Sen. Johnson. "As I travel around Wisconsin and the people who support me are just tired of the division. They're tired of the anger. I find it exhausting. In a time where it just seems like this nation is coming apart, I really felt I'm there I've had some success finding areas of agreement and I think I can be helpful."
On the campaign trail, Sen. Johnson is building on his movements over the past 12 years in office and defending his track record.
"As a result of my efforts, 95% of American businesses the mom-and-pop shops, and main street businesses got a tax cut so they can stay competitive with the big guys," he says. "The way that is being twisted in the political world is that I did a tax cut for myself and my supporters, and nothing could be further from the truth."
"I don't want to cut Social Security and Medicare. I've never said that; never would. What elected official ever would say that? Yet, Democrats, every cycle say someone wants to take away or cut Social Security, it's a complete lie."
Crushing inflation is one of the critical issues for both sides in this election cycle. One, Sen. Johnson calls a tax increase on the middle class.
When asked if both Republicans and Democrats can agree on any policy to help with inflation, Sen Johnson says this:
"Well, they have to stop spending money on this they shouldn't be spending money on. They just passed this reconciliation package which was 100 percent partisan, 369 billion dollars. Now I remember when 100 billion dollars was a lot of money," Sen. Johnson says of the Democratic party. "Unfortunately, you have one party that just wants to buy votes, that's what that student loan forgiveness was, trying to buy votes before the election. And, I will say it's a bi-partisan problem in terms of waiting to spend money. I'm part of a small group of people who continue to raise the alarm that this massive deficit spending, is completely out of control, our growing debt. That threatens all of our government programs."
Senator Johnson had once called the riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021 a "peaceful protest" on Fox News. Saying what happened on the Senate side of the Capitol was more peaceful. NBC 26 asked Sen. Johnson if he still stood behind that statement.
"First of all, I don't think you're quoting me accurately. You have to take the entire context but I did say I wasn't personally scared on January 6th because we immediately locked into the Senate. My assumption was there were a couple of crazy people who got past security. We were in the Senate no more than 5 or 10 minutes and we have ushered out a back step and I went back to my office. Then I turned on the TV and I saw the violence, I condemned it immediately. I condemned it forcefully, I condemned it repeatedly, as I condemned the violence that occurred during the 570 riots in the summer of 2020. I condemn all violence," Johnson says.
"A couple of snippets of what I said have been taken completely out of context, it's true on January 6th, I was never concerned about my own life because I didn't know it was happening. I was in the Capitol, far away from whatever violence. And it is true there was more violence on the house side than the Senate side, but the Senate side you had the guy with the Viking horns walk in and there was no violence that occurred," says Johnson.
"I do believe the vast majority of people there on January 6th were protesting peacefully, just like the vast majority of people protesting in about 8,000 during the summer also protested peacefully but the fact is, 570 of those protests turned into riots. There was 2,000 law enforcement officer injured during the summer riots, 1 to 2 billion dollars of property damage, a couple of dozen people killed, a couple of people killed in Kenosha, dozens of businesses burned to the ground in Kenosha."
Senator Ron Johnson has come under fire recently for his alleged involvement in creating a slate of fake electors to give to former Vice-President Mike Pence.
The Associated Press said an aide for Sen. Johnson told Pence’s staff that Johnson wanted to hand-deliver to Pence fake elector votes from Wisconsin and Michigan, text messages revealed by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection showed back in June.
Senator Ron Johnson says he had no involvement in creating a slate of fake electors to give to former Vice President Mike Pence.
"I had no involvement. I received either three texts and I sent two texts or the other way around. My involvement or my lack of involvement was seconds worth of texting," he says. "I was texting that something had to be delivered to the vice president. I didn't know what it was and was there somebody that can help arrange delivery. So then I texted, I talked to my chief of staff and he took care of it. We found out that the vice president wasn't accepting anything and said we can't deliver anything and that was the end of the story."
"We weren't doing anything. Were we supposed to deliver something or not? Did the vice president want it? The Vice President didn't. We didn't deliver anything. It's a complete non-story. I know the news media is trying to turn it into a story. I know the January 6th Committee tried to turn it into a story. They didn't do their due diligence. They didn't by the way publish the whole text exchange which shows the Vice President was expecting this. It was supposed to be delivered some other way," Senator Johnson says.
When asked if he would testify if he was subpoenaed by the January 6th, Sen. Johnson said he would "probably honor the subpoena."
With just weeks until the midterm election, Wisconsin has become the epicenter of political polarization. When asked about his stance on gun legislation, Senator Johnson said he would willing to support the gun laws the United States already has in place but doesn't support.
"We have 10,000 gun control laws in this country 10,000. Before we pass another gun control law in this country what we ought to do is enforce the ones that are already on the books," he says.
The 2-term incumbent has a stronghold among Republicans in the Badger state and has the backing of former President Donald Trump. However, Senator Johnson has been a magnet for criticism for Democrats and has recently faced backlash for saying he won't support same-sex marriage in its current state.
"What I've said about same-sex marriage, I've always felt that the solution was civil unions, I've always supported civil unions," says Senator Johnson. "It's completely different from Roe Vs. Wade, that was overturned because you're protecting life prospectively. You're not going to mess up lives retroactively," he adds. "So, This attempt to codify is completely unnecessary, it's divisive. So I'll just lay that out this is a political movement. Democrats simply can't leave any wound healed. It's unfortunate they're doing that."
In a tough reelection battle, voters will have to settle in on what's going to determine their choice come November.
"What you ought to do is be talking to Mandela Barnes if you can ever find him and asking him some pretty pointed questions," says Senator Johnson of Democratic Senate candidate, Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes. "He will not be honest. He's not being honest with the voters of Wisconsin. He's disavowing past positions he's running away from them. But the media ought to be asking him the questions Wisconsin public needs to hear."
NBC 26 is scheduled to interview Lt. Gov. Barnes later this week.