Sen. Ron Johnson, speaks at a one on one with Emilee Fannon, with WKOW-TV, during The Cap Times Idea Fest at UW-Madison in Madison, on Saturday, September 14, 2019. Photo by Michelle Stocker

GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country, on Sunday formally announced he would seek reelection to “continue to fight for freedom in the public realm.”

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, vowed before his 2016 reelection that he wouldn’t seek a third term. But he hedged on that promise after Dems won full control of Washington, D.C., in the 2020 elections.

Johnson said in a statement he promised during his first campaign in 2010 that he would “always tell people the truth and that I would never vote with reelection in mind,” adding those have been “easy promises to keep.”

Johnson has become a lightning rod for criticism in recent years, particularly over his comments on COVID-19, and hinted at that in his reelection announcement.

“It is not a decision I have made lightly,” Johnson said. “Having already experienced a growing level of vitriol and false attacks, I certainly don’t expect better treatment in the future.”

Dems immediately knocked Johnson for breaking his pledge to serve only two terms.

State Dem Chair Ben Wikler ripped Johnson for looking out for himself at the expense of Wisconsinites, saying he had manipulated the tax code to benefit donors and himself, among other things.

“Ron Johnson has been in the Senate looking out for himself at the expense of Wisconsinites and failing to do the job he was elected to do, and it’s time to face the consequences,” Wikler said.

Johnson is getting a late start in his reelection bid with mediocre poll numbers and trailing other vulnerable incumbents on the fundraising front.

In the Marquette University Law School’s October poll, 36 percent of registered voters had a favorable opinion of Johnson, while 42 percent had an unfavorable one. Still, he was in a similar position in the fall of 2015. Then, his split was 27-38 a year out from winning reelection by 3.4 points in a rematch with Dem Russ Feingold, who he beat in 2010.

In October, Johnson reported raising $906,290 in receipts during the third quarter and $2.3 million cash on hand.

By comparison, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., reported $9.5 million raised during the three-month period, while U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., raised nearly $8.2 million. Among the incumbents who typically show up on the national lists of top targets, Johnson’s fundraising was closest to U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan. The New Hampshire Dem raised nearly $3 million.

Johnson also had no paid campaign staff as of the end of September. Sources told WisPolitics.com last week Johnson has hired Dylan Lefler, who was campaign manager for former U.S. Sen. Martha McSally in her unsuccessful 2020 reelection bid, to serve in the same role for the Oshkosh Republican.

The sources said Washington, D.C.-based FP1 Strategies will serve as Johnson’s consultant.

See Johnson’s release.

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