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Syndication: Journal Sentinel
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson speaks during the Democratic U.S. Senate debate at Marquette University's Varsity Theatre in Milwaukee on July 17.Mike De Sisti / USA Today Network

Wisconsin Democrat drops Senate bid, backs Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson tweeted Monday that his campaign "ran out of money."

By and

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson is dropping out of the Wisconsin Democratic Senate primary and endorsing Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a winnowing of the crowded field ahead of next month's primary.

Nelson tweeted Monday that his campaign "ran out of money" and endorsed Barnes in a message that took a swipe at two other opponents — Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Treasurer Sarah Godlewski — who have made personal loans to their campaigns.

Nelson was the first to enter the primary race, announcing a bid in October of 2020, motivated then, he said, to take out Johnson. He had attempted to brand himself as progressive who won six times in a redder part of the state. Nelson is the executive of the Outagamie County, about 90 minutes north of Milwaukee. 

But Nelson, a former Sen. Bernie Sanders delegate, failed to gain traction in the campaign and while he had been angling to capture progressives in the state with a major national endorsement, those went to Barnes. While Our Revolution Wisconsin endorsed Nelson, Sens. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have backed Barnes.

Nelson's departure leaves Barnes, Lasry and Godlewski as the top candidates in the race. Barnes drew 25% of the vote from registered Democratic primary voters in last month's Marquette University poll of the primary, followed closely by Lasry at 21%. Godlewski had support from 9% and Nelson from 7%.

Lasry has been far-and-away the top fundraiser in the race, but $12.3 million of the $16.1 million he's raised through June came from personal loans. Godlewski raised $6.7 million through June, $3.6 million from personal loans, while Barnes had raised $6.2 million and hasn't loaned his campaign any money.

When asked about Nelson's comment about self-funding, Sarah Abel, Godlewski's communications director, responded by pointing to the candidate's roots.

“Sarah Godlewski is a fifth-generation Wisconsinite, born and raised in a middle-class, western Wisconsin home by two public school teachers. These are the values that drive her public service, and Sarah’s fight to restore reproductive freedom and fight inflation is galvanizing Wisconsin primary voters in the last two weeks of this race," she said.

The winner of the Aug. 9 primary will face off against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in the general election.