Mandela Barnes’ Struggle To Run A Class-Based Senate Campaign

by | Nov 8, 2022 | Politics

MILWAUKEE, Wis.— There’s a story Mandela Barnes likes to tell about the first time he ran for office. He was running against an incumbent Democratic state representative in his native Milwaukee and appeared before the board of a local Service Employees International Union chapter. They asked how they could be sure he would not turn his back on organized labor. “If I ever turned my back on organized labor, I’d have to answer to my dad, never mind the SEIU,” said Barnes, now Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor.AdvertisementBarnes told this story to a crowd of union officials who had gathered at a local brewery a few weeks before his victory in the state’s Democratic Senate primary in August. His father, a retired United Auto Workers (UAW) member, and his mother, a retired public school teacher, laughed in the crowd.It was emblematic of the campaign he wanted to run — one tightly tied in with the state’s unions and full of economic populism, a contrast to the ultra-wealthy, far-right businessman he was running against and designed to win over working-class voters like his own family. “It’s the reality,” Barnes told HuffPost in an interview. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for organized labor.”Running that campaign was easier said than done. The biggest issue in Democratic politics for much of the summer and fall was abortion rights rather than economics. Talking about the economy is tough when inflation is around 10% and the president is a member of your party. Aligning yourself with unions in Wisconsin was far easier before manufacturing bottomed out, and the state became rig …

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