On Monday, the Associated Press profiled independent voters in Wisconsin who generally lean conservative — but have soured on Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
Johnson is locked in a tight race with Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in one of the most closely-watched Senate contests of the election. A recent poll by Marquette University found Johnson with a razor-thin lead after trailing previously, and an improvement with independent voters driving much of that movement. Nevertheless, the report noted, many of these voters are up for grabs — and Johnson is still struggling with them compared to previous years.
"A midterm campaign that the GOP hoped would be a referendum on President Joe Biden and the economy is at risk of becoming a comparison of the two parties, putting Republicans in an unexpectedly defensive position," said the report. "In politically-divided Wisconsin where recent elections have been decided by a few thousand votes, the outcome could hinge on self-described independent voters."
"Independent voters who lean neither Democrat nor Republican nationally preferred Biden over Trump, 52% to 37% in 2020, and preferred Democrats over Republicans in U.S. House races by a similar margin in the 2018 midterms, according to AP VoteCast," reported Tom Beaumont. "Independents had moved toward Republicans by early this year, seeking answers on the economy, said Republican pollster David Winston, a senior adviser to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. But they have drifted back toward Democrats as efforts by GOP leaders to focus on the economy have clashed with Republican attacks on the Justice Department and Trump's continuing complaints about the 2020 election."
Among the independents profiled by the article are Sarah Motiff of Columbus, Wisconsin, who says she has voted for Johnson in every election until now but has been disturbed by reports his office tried to forward fake electors to former Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election, saying, "This is pretty damaging." Others include Steve Gray of Rio, Wisconsin, who describes himself as Republican-leaning but skeptical of Trump, and Dilaine Noel of the Wisconsin River valley — both of whom are opposed to the Supreme Court's decision overturning abortion rights.
This comes as Republicans continue to face struggles in other key Senate races. Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Trump-endorsed candidate in Pennsylvania, has struggled to gain traction against Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. And in Georgia, where Republicans are trying to go on the offensive against Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock, GOP challenger Herschel Walker has gained attention after claiming at an event last weekend that he is "not that smart."