Wisconsin democratic candidates hold debate ahead of state primary

NOW: Wisconsin democratic candidates hold debate ahead of state primary

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin is three weeks away from the August primary election.

In preparation, five democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate took the stage Sunday, July 17 at Marquette University's Varsity Theatre in Milwaukee for the first debate of the campaign season.

The five democrats that debated Sunday are united on one front in particular -- getting incumbent Senator Ron Johnson out of office.

Here's a look at the candidates hoping to win the August Democratic Senate Primary that qualified for the debate:

  • Mandela Barnes - The current Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin.
  • Alex Lasry - A Milwaukee Bucks executive and son of the Bucks co-owner.
  • Sara Godlewski - the Wisconsin State Treasurer.
  • Tom Nelson - Outagamie County Executive
  • Steven Olikara - the founder and former chief executive of a non-profit organization

A hot topic at Sunday's debate was inflation and recent economic shortcomings. Godlewski noted that fossil fuel companies need to be held accountable, and gas prices need to be brought down.

"My first initiative is making sure that we suspend the federal gas tax," Godlewski said.

Barnes echoed that sentiment.

"We have to hold oil, gas companies, and also pharmaceutical companies accountable for using inflation as a smokescreen to continue to jack up prices," Barnes said.

Nelson opted to push for a national industrial strategy.

"Under one roof we need to have tax policy, trade policy, get rid of NAFTA, get rid of CAFTA, things that have hollowed out manufacturing," Nelson said.

Lasry looked to businesses to help with economic issues.

"The best thing we can do is make sure we're raising wages and building more things here in America," Lasry said.

Steven Olikara noted that leaders need to focus on root supply chain issues.

"Supporting the President to use the Defense Production Act to help open up and ease the supply chain bottlenecks," Olikara said.

Another major focus was the overturn of Roe v. Wade and reproductive rights.

"We have to explore every possible option to make sure women get the reproductive healthcare they need and deserve," Barnes said.

Godlewski -- the only woman in the race -- criticized the male candidates' past avoidance of the topic.

"Where were you guys talking about reproductive rights at a UW forum when they asked you what your priorities were in the U.S. Senate? I was the only one talking about reproductive rights because for me this is not an afterthought," Godlewski said to her fellow candidates.

On the topic of gun violence, Barnes spoke for his hometown in Milwaukee, addressing the need for better, equitable funding for schools.

"We need to make sure that every child in every zip code has a fair shot at success because that's not the reality right now," Barnes said.

Lasry highlighted his campaign's public safety plan.

"We need to make sure that police have the resources they need for training to stop and solve crimes, and to make sure we're rebuilding trusting communities," Lasry said.

All five candidates spoke in support of assault weapon restrictions.

"I do not believe we should have weapons of war in our community," Godlewski said.

Other topics included trade, protections for transgender youth and climate change, to which Nelson noted his support of a Green New Deal.

Pre-debate polls showed Barnes as a front-runner, with Lasry not far behind.

The Wisconsin Republican Gubernatorial Primary Debate is next Sunday, July 24, with Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels, and Tim Ramthun expected to attend.

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