GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who has yet to say whether he will seek a third term in 2022, didn’t have a single campaign staffer on payroll during the third quarter, according to a WisPolitics.com check of his latest finance report.
By comparison, the Oshkosh Republican listed payroll expenses for seven staffers during the third quarter of 2015 before beating Dem Russ Feingold in a rematch of their 2010 race.
Insiders have tried to divine from the incumbent’s fundraising whether he will seek a third term next year after he pledged before his 2016 reelection that he would serve only two terms. His fundraising ticked up to $1.2 million during the second quarter only to drop again to $906,000 during the last three months, sending mixed messages on that front.
Regardless of whether he’s closing in on a decision, the lack of staff underscores Johnson has done little to prepare for a possible bid. It also shows he would have to staff up quickly if he got in, and he likely wouldn’t be able to rely on alums from his 2016 bid for a campaign.
As he prepared for his 2016 reelection bid, Johnson already had Betsy Ankney working for him in 2014. Like others who were on Johnson’s payroll at this point in six years ago, she has another job; Nikki Haley hired her in February to run the former South Carolina guv’s PAC.
There’s often significant turnover from one campaign to the next, particularly with six years between Senate bids. Still, all of those who were on Johnson’s payroll have moved onto other gigs:
*Andrew Iverson is now at the RNC as a regional political director;
*Andrew Gowdy is the external relations officer at Illinois Policy;
*Benjamin Giles is a member of the Fond du Lac City Council;
*Anthony Birch is the social media supervisor at Generac Power Systems;
*Alexis Ardis is director of the Iowa GOP’s House Majority Fund;
*And Brian Reisinger is at Platform Communications with multiple clients.
Altogether, Johnson listed $53,212 in payroll expenses for his seven staffers and $23,826 in payroll taxes during the third quarter six years ago. While he listed no such expenses on this latest filing, he did pay longtime aide Tony Blando $15,000 in late August for strategy and fundraising consulting.
While alums of the 2016 campaign are working elsewhere, Johnson is also about to lose his deputy chief of staff in Washington, D.C., with Patrick McIlheran leaving next month to join the conservative Badger Institute.
Institute President Mike Nichols told WisPolitics.com that he pursued McIlheran to join the institute. They previously worked together at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Republicans argued Johnson wouldn’t have a hard time finding top-notch staff for a reelection bid because of the attraction for operatives to work on what would be one of the top races in the country. What’s more, Johnson added two vets of the Trump administration to his Senate office earlier this year.
Vanessa Ambrosini, who has worked in the Wisconsin Legislature and under former Gov. Scott Walker, worked for the U.S. Department of Commerce as deputy director of public affairs for the secretary. Meanwhile, Alexa Henning served as director of media affairs on Trump’s campaign after serving as assistant communications director and director of broadcast media at the White House.
A Johnson spokeswoman declined comment on his lack of a campaign staff.
State Dem Party spokesman Philip Shulman said regardless of whether Johnson breaks his pledge to serve just two terms, the Republican “has made it abundantly clear to Wisconsinites he will do whatever it takes to further his own self-serving political agenda at the expense of doing the job Wisconsin elected him to do.”
This story first appeared in Friday’s WisPolitics.com Report. See how to subscribe.