Sen. Johnson hits Barnes on crime, immigration policy in first attack ad kicking off an expensive & negative campaign season

NOW: Sen. Johnson hits Barnes on crime, immigration policy in first attack ad kicking off an expensive & negative campaign season

MADISON Wis. (CBS 58) -- The negative campaign ads against Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Mandela Barnes have officially begun with Senator Ron Johnson issuing his first attack in a digital spot released on Thursday, Aug. 18.

Republican Sen. Johnson, who's faced mounting criticism by Democrats, took aim at his opponent by aligning Barnes with progressive Democrats referred to as the "squad" while targeting his views on immigration and crime.

“The socialist squad is leading the charge to defund our police,” the ad states featuring images of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO). “No surprise crime is on the rise. Mandela Barnes would eagerly join their Squad. Barnes wanted to abolish ICE, open our borders to illegal immigrants, and release violent felons without bail. Mandela Barnes – dangerously liberal on crime.”

It marks the first time Barnes has been shed in a negative light by Johnson and his allies after Barnes got a free-pass during the primary with none of his opponents taking aim at him. The National Republican Senatorial Committee launched the ad Thursday.

Maddy McDaniel, a spokeswoman for Barnes, dismissed the ad calling it a "distraction."

“This ad is just more of Ron Johnson’s lies to distract us from his record of delivering for his wealthy donors and attacking Social Security,” said McDaniel. "Ron Johnson can peddle these tired attacks all he wants, but the people of Wisconsin know that Mandela Barnes will always fight for safety and opportunity for working people.”

Johnson's new digital spot now puts both candidates on an even playing field, dishing out attacks to try and define each other, casting their opponent as out of touch while arguing the other can't represent the working class.

It marks the beginning of what's anticipated to be a largely negative U.S. Senate race as tens of millions are projected to be spent on TV and digital ads.

Since last year, Democratic groups have been rolling out ads targeting Johnson. Most recently, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) announced they will invest $3 million in the race. The DSCC ad released days after the primary alleges Johnson is profiting from his time spent in Congress.

Before turning to attack ads, Johnson's campaign highlighted his upbringing and work ethic by releasing "Humble Beginnings" as the Republican attempts to rebrand his image after controversial headlines about abortion and COVID-19 treatments.

Barnes is also defining his image by broadcasting spots trying to connect with middle and working class voters and that he "understands what they are going through."

The latest polling has Barnes up by 7-percentage points over Johnson, according to Marquette University Law School. Barnes leads 51% over Johnson's 44% among registered voters. It's a 5-point shift from June where Barnes received 46% to Johnson's 44%.

The gains Barnes received from June to Aug. largely comes from independent voters where he leads Johnson by 14 percentage points.

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