There was a message in Milwaukee on Monday — and it wasn’t the one Joe Biden was trying to spit out.
The national headline news from the president’s Labor Day visit to Wisconsin, of course, focused on his attacks on “MAGA Republicans” — though conservative media found the typically unintelligible Biden gaffe.
But there was a more telling sign from the festivities that should signal voters nationwide about just how toxic Biden is outside liberal strongholds.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, locked in a tight race trying to unseat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, decided to skip town before Biden took the stage — he had other places to be as it turns out.
Bloomberg senior White House reporter Jennifer Jacobs took note of it in a Twitter post:
Wisconsin politicians here with Biden at Laborfest include Governor Tony Evers, Rep. Gwen Moore, Milwaukee Mayor Chevy Johnson and county executive David Crowley.
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) September 5, 2022
As Jacobs pointed out, there were other Democrats who appeared with Biden, most famously Gov. Tony Evers and Rep. Gwen Moore, both of whom are running this year. But they’re not in the same kind of races as Barnes’ run against Johnson.
Evers is a known entity, a Democrat who drank the coronavirus Kool-Aid of massive government overreach. He’s a party hack and has been since before he won the 2018 governor’s race against the infinitely superior Republican Scott Walker.
(Some day, an enterprising reporter in the mainstream media might get curious about why exactly it is that absentee ballots and mail-in ballots so consistently tend to benefit Democrats in tight races. Couldn’t be because they’re most vulnerable to fraud or anything like that. Just a coincidence, maybe.)
There are no illusions about Evers. He’s a party machine candidate who’s got a slight polling lead against his Republican opponent, according to RealClearPolitics. Evers has to be seen with a Democratic president like Biden, or that party machine might not be there for him.
His opponent, meanwhile, is Tim Michels, the Republican who won the nomination with the public support of former President Donald Trump. Evers has nothing to lose by being seen with Biden.
Moore, meanwhile, represents Wisconsin’s 4th Congressional District, which is basically the city of Milwaukee, according to Ballotpedia. That means it’s basically Democratic ground. Moore won in 2020 by almost 75 percent of the vote, Ballotpedia recorded.
She also has nothing to lose by being seen with Biden.
But Barnes is in a different kind of race. As the Republican incumbent, Johnson has taken on a national profile with his blistering attacks against the Biden administration and the agencies under its control. Unlike Evers, whose race, by definition, is going to be focused on Wisconsin-specific issues, Barnes is faced with the national picture.
And on the national scene, with the national and international picture largely of his own creation, Joe Biden is toxic outside circles that are either truly committed to the Democratic agenda or truly committed to their hatred of anything Republican because of their hatred of Trump.
According to RealClearPolititics, Barnes is maintaining a slight lead over Johnson among the famously divided Wisconsin electorate, and he clearly decided not to put that in danger on Monday, marching in the Milwaukee Laborfest Labor Day parade but blowing out of town before Biden became part of the event.
According to a statement by Barnes’ campaign, it was just a question of logistics.
“Mandela walked in the Milwaukee parade and then went to support Wisconsin workers at events across the state, including in Racine where UAW Local 180 has been on strike for over 100 days,” the statement said, according to WITI.
Right. Barnes’ presence was absolutely demanded in the Badger State just about anywhere but the place Biden happened to be campaigning that day.
As a quick glance at social media showed, not even self-identified Democrats were buying it.
NOTE: Barnes’ Twitter handle is @TheOtherMandela, which goes to show he’s not shy. (Though it does open the possibility that Biden will claim to have been arrested trying to see him some time.)
@TheOtherMandela I’m a Democrat and u made a bad call not showing up yesterday on that stage with Biden. “Scheduling issue?” REALLY? That’s code for I don’t want to be seen with him. It was cowardly and disrespectful.
— Avery Banks (@AveryBa68752542) September 6, 2022
@TheOtherMandela bad move not showing up with the President. I want you to beat Johnson but you need to get your priorities in order. Dissing The President is bad. Plain and simple @TheOtherMandela @Morning_Joe @morningmika @JoeBiden @POTUS
— Bill Iacullo (@BillIacullo) September 6, 2022
But, as Breitbart noted, Barnes has plenty of good reason to distance himself from Biden.
As of Monday, according to a Civiqs tracking poll, Biden had a 53 percent disapproval rating versus 41 percent approval. That means the Biden brand is not exactly sterling at the moment. (It could also mean that 41 percent of Wisconsinites polled are fools or liars, but that’s another issue.)
In a race that will be greatly affected by — if not hinge on — national issues far outside of Wisconsin’s borders, Biden’s more of an anchor than a lift these days, as is understood by anyone who cares about the country’s economy, its borders or its security in a dangerous world.
Voters like that don’t tend to be Democrats. They’re independents and maybe the kind of registered Republican who might be persuaded by the mainstream media and Stephen Colbert that conservatives like Johnson are a danger to the Republic, as long as they’re not reminded of the stench of incompetence, unconstitutional arrogance and corruption that keeps seeping from the pores of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Barnes has clearly concluded that with those voters, an appearance with Biden is the kiss of death.
And so he skipped town.
None of this bodes well for the Democratic Party in the midterm elections (parties that run away from their leader in midterms tend to be run out of office). And it doesn’t bode well for the party’s future, since those same voters Barnes is courting will be the ones Democrats need nationwide come 2024.
A lot can change in two years, of course, and any political prediction in that time period is a fool’s game.
But the message from Milwaukee on Monday was clear, and the rest of the country should be listening closely.