Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, owner of one of the most coveted endorsements in Democratic politics, has given his seal of approval to a leading candidate in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race—a must-win for Democrats.
Clyburn will endorse Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, in his primary campaign to take on Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in 2022, The Daily Beast has exclusively learned.
“Mandela is hands-down the best candidate to defeat Senator Ron Johnson, expand our majority in the United States Senate, and deliver results for the people of Wisconsin,” Clyburn says in his prepared endorsement.
If there’s one person President Joe Biden owes for getting him to the White House, it may be Clyburn. The No. 3 House Democrat’s endorsement the day before the Democratic primary in South Carolina propelled Biden to a win there and got his sagging campaign back on track.
Since then, the top-ranking Black Democrat in Congress has endorsed winning candidates in a number of other high-profile races, most recently, Representative-elect Shontel Brown for an Ohio congressional seat.
Clyburn’s endorsement hailed Barnes’ “historic” candidacy for the office. In 2018, at 31 years old, he was elected lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, becoming the first Black candidate to hold statewide office there in 40 years. If elected in 2022, Barnes would be the state’s first-ever Black U.S. senator.
To keep or expand their paper-thin Senate majority, Democrats will likely need to win Wisconsin in 2022. It is one of two Senate races where Republicans are defending a state that Biden won in 2020, though he bested Donald Trump by less than 1 percentage point.
Johnson has not said whether he will run for a third term—even though he promised to only serve two—but national Democrats see him as one of the most vulnerable incumbents because of his full and enthusiastic embrace of Trump’s right-wing brand.
A dozen Democrats are running in the primary, and Barnes is hardly the only well-known candidate. His rivals include State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, former state house leader Tom Nelson, and Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry.
Barnes and Nelson have staked out more progressive turf in the primary.
The race is shaping up to be competitive, with all leading candidates raising significant money so far. Lasry, whose billionaire family owns the Bucks, has led with over $3 million raised so far, with a quarter of that coming from his own pocket. But Barnes quickly raised over $1 million within 10 weeks of entering the race, outpacing even the incumbent Johnson in that period.
Barnes has collected notable endorsements from across the Democratic Party’s spectrum, suggesting he could put together a winning coalition for the primary. Clyburn is known as a prominent moderate on Capitol Hill and has clear sway with Black voters.
In September, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)—who remains highly popular on the left after her 2020 presidential bid—backed Barnes. And several leading national progressive organizations have also endorsed Barnes.
An internal poll from Barnes’ campaign, shared with The Hill in September, showed him up by 29 points, though internal polls can be famously off and the primary election isn’t until Aug. 9, 2022.