MU Poll: Shift in U.S. Senate race favors Johnson, Evers holds narrow lead over Michels

MU Poll: Shift in U.S. Senate race favors Johnson, Evers holds narrow lead over Michels

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- New polling 8 weeks out from the general election shows U.S. Senator Ron Johnson has significantly tightened the gap on his opponent, Democratic Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes. Meanwhile Gov. Tony Evers holds a slight lead over his Republican opponent Tim Michels, according to the latest Marquette University Law School Poll.

Republican Sen. Johnson received 49% support, while 48% favored Mandela Barnes in the hotly contested U.S. Senate Race, according to the poll. Last month's post-primary MU poll had Barnes up 7 points over Johnson, a lead that has essentially disappeared. The results are within the poll's margin of error.

Charles Franklin, poll director for Marquette Law School, said the dramatic shift is a sign of the fall campaign kicking into high gear and the impact of negative campaign ads.

"I think there's a lot of evidence that negative ad attacks that are unanswered are effective," Franklin said. "And how you respond may not build your image, but it may help downgrade your opponent."

Franklin added not well-known candidates, such as Barnes, can be more vulnerable to negative attack ads over someone like Johnson, who's seeking a third term.

In reaction to the poll results, the Johnson campaign continued to hammer criticism towards Barnes, mirroring their strategy with campaign ads over the airwaves.

"Mandela Barnes wants to let violent criminals out of prison, 'stymie capitalism', and pass a socialist Green New Deal that will crush Wisconsin's economy," Johnson campaign senior advisor Ben Voelkel said. "Mandela Barnes thinks the founding of America was 'awful' and wants to fundamentally transform the country. We'll make the next two months awful for him as we continue to expose the truth about him to Wisconsin voters."

The Barnes campaign, meanwhile, downplayed their loss of advantage in the poll.

“Wisconsin voters are looking for a leader like Mandela Barnes who shares their working class values – not an out-of-touch politician like Ron Johnson who supports slashing Medicare and Social Security and sending our seniors back to work," Barnes campaign spokesperson Maddy McDaniel said. "Polls will go up and down, 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.”

Governor Race

The poll shows Democratic Gov. Tony Evers with 47% among likely voters and construction executive Tim Michels at 44%. Among registered voters Evers maintained a slight lead with 44% while Michels received 43%, both results within the margin of error.

In Aug., the poll had 48% support for Evers and 44% backing Michels among likely voters. It's another sign of the matchup tightening and leaning towards a toss-up.

The results come as Evers has also seen a steady decline in approval ratings since Feb. This month marked only the second time since Evers took office a majority of respondents 47% disapprove of his job performance with 44% approve, according to the poll.

Franklin said the dwindling approval ratings is largely due to independent voters who are beginning to view Evers more negatively than positively.

"It's becoming less positive throughout the year and now net-negative is a warning sign for the campaign," said Franklin.

While at a campaign stop on Milwaukee's north side Wednesday, Sept. 14, Evers said he aims to highlight his accomplishments to distinguish him from his opponent during the final two months of the campaign.

"Whether it's fixing the roads, doing broadband, saving taxpayers lots of money, in addition to providing resources for our schools and pointing out the radical nature of my opponent and where he stands issues such as funding for our schools, how he views voting, and how, I believe, he looks at it as something we need to constrain -- I want as many people to vote as possible," Evers said while talking to reporters. "So, there's distinct differences between the two of us."

The Michels campaign touted the positive trajectory their candidate has seen over the summer.

"Our campaign has seen a meteoric rise in support in five months while Tony Evers has failed for years," Patrick McNulty, the Michels campaign manager, said in a statement. "Tim Michels appeals to a broad group of Wisconsinites from all walks of life, and our closing the gap reflects what we are seeing on the trail as we outwork the Evers campaign. As more people pay attention to the race and Tim continues to talk about the issues that matter most, they realize the tired, old failures of Tony Evers have Wisconsin on the wrong track."

You can view the full poll results here.

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