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Democrats hit Sen. Ron Johnson on Jan. 6 remarks in new Wisconsin Senate ad

It’s the first time Democrats have run a TV ad in the race highlighting the GOP senator's past comments about the attack on the Capitol.
Insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. Facing prison time and dire personal consequences for storming the U.S. Capitol, some Jan. 6 defendants are trying to profit from their participation in the deadly riot, using it as a platform to drum up cash, promote business endeavors and boost social media profiles.
Protesters try to break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Julio Cortez / AP file

Democrats are ramping up their attacks on Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin over his remarks downplaying the Jan. 6 riot with a new TV ad in the homestretch of the pivotal Senate race.

The 30-second ad, first shared with NBC News, will hit airwaves in the battleground state Wednesday. It features a former Madison police officer narrating video that shows violent clashes around the U.S. Capitol during last year’s insurrection.

“I’ll never forget Jan. 6th, watching my fellow law enforcement officers defending the Capitol,” retired Police Capt. George Silverwood says in the ad. “And then, five officers died. But Ron Johnson is making excuses for rioters who tried to overthrow our government, even calling them ‘peaceful protests.’”

As Silverwood talks about the deaths tied to the attack, the ad shows a coffin draped in the American flag.

The ad is paid for by the Senate Majority PAC — the Democrats’ main Senate super PAC — and End Citizens United, another political action committee. Johnson and his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, are entering the final weeks of a contest that could determine which party controls the Senate over the next two years.

It’s also the first time Democrats have run a TV ad in the race highlighting Johnson’s remarks about the attack on the Capitol. Johnson, a two-term senator, has come under increased scrutiny on the campaign trail in recent weeks for his past comments about Jan. 6.

Image: Ron Johnson
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in Washington on Sept. 21.Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call via AP file

Johnson, who recently told the Milwaukee Rotary Club that Jan. 6 wasn’t an armed insurrection, has said he strongly denounced the violence on that day. He previously told Fox News: “By and large it was all, it was peaceful protest, except for there were a number of people, basically agitators, that whipped the crowd and breached the Capitol. And you know, that’s really the truth of what’s happening here.”

While it is the first television ad in the race focusing specifically on Jan. 6, Johnson faced blowback earlier for the “peaceful protest” remark. Last year, before the Senate campaign was underway, a coalition of 20 progressive groups funded a TV ad criticizing Johnson for his words and actions around the Capitol attack, as well as his comments about voter protections. “You’re failing us, Sen. Johnson,” it said. “Protecting our democracy has never been partisan. And yet you refused to investigate the deadly attack on our Capitol.”

A digital ad earlier in the campaign also drew attention to Jan. 6.

Johnson and other GOP-aligned groups have pummeled Barnes with ads hitting him on crime. The ad from the Senate Majority PAC aims to counter that messaging by painting Johnson as being too extreme for Wisconsin while seeking to undermine Johnson’s contention that he is the candidate on the side of law enforcement.

NBC News reported Monday that Johnson had hired an attorney to consult on a possible recount of the Nov. 8 election. The lawyer — James Troupis, an attorney for President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign who led Trump’s unsuccessful recount efforts in Wisconsin — is already embroiled in the Justice Department’s investigation of the Jan. 6 riot.