Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has closed the gap in his re-election race, erasing a seven-point deficit to take a one-point lead over his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, according to a new poll released Wednesday.
While Johnson’s 49%-48% lead among likely voters is within the poll’s margin of error, it’s a huge reversal for Johnson in the Marquette Law School poll, considered the gold standard of polling in Wisconsin. In last month's Marquette survey, Barnes led Johnson by seven points, 51% to 44%.
The most recent poll also showed Gov. Tony Evers holding his lead over GOP nominee Tim Michels, with 47% of those queried favoring Evers to 44% choosing Michels for governor.
The survey of 801 Wisconsin registered voters was conducted Sept. 6-11 and had a margin of error of +/- 4.3%.
The poll’s director, Charles Franklin, in his live delivery of the results, said the senate race shift happened as voters learned more about Barnes and as Republicans began running ads targeting him. Those ads have depicted Barnes as too far left for Wisconsin voters.
Johnson senior adviser Ben Veolkel said the Republican's campaign would keep those themes going. “We’ll make the next two months awful for him as we continue to expose the truth about him to Wisconsin voters,” Voelkel said.
“Polls will go up and down," said Barnes’ spokeswoman Maddy McDaniel. "But our campaign remains focused on reaching every voter we need to win, and Mandela will continue to bring his message of fighting for the middle class to every corner of Wisconsin.”
The poll's director said the changing fortunes are all about independent voters. “Let’s cut to the chase, it’s the independents,” Franklin says of the huge swing from Barnes to Johnson. In last month’s poll, independents favored Barnes 55%-40%. “This time, they’re leaning to Johnson by two points,” 48%-46%.
Franklin also said that while Johnson’s net favorability stayed the same, at 8 points under water, Barnes’ favorability also sank in a month bringing him now one point under water. “They have pulled Barnes from a quite favorable position to an even break,” he said.
Franklin added that Barnes’ high marks a month ago was due to the fact that he “faced very little criticism during the Democratic primary,” and Democratic opponents quickly consolidated behind him. At the same time, Democrats had been running negative ads against Johnson.