Republicans' Use of Crime as a Political Weapon Scoring Big in Battleground Senate Races

(John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, File)

One of the most pressing issues for the American people has been the shocking rise in violent crime over the past three years. Poll after poll puts the issue of crime at or near the top of Americans’ concerns.


That this favors Republicans is no secret. In one of the most politically catastrophic decisions in modern history, Democrats made the conscious choice to back radical black activists in the wake of the George Floyd riots and advocate for “defunding police.” No other decision has proven to be so advantageous for one political party as this one. And the Democrats still don’t have an effective counter for it.

“Defund the police” roiled the 2020 election and is threatening to upend the 2022 midterms. Democrats have been trying to run away from their support of Black Lives Matter and their radical anti-law enforcement agenda. And Republican political ads reminding voters of this may very well hand the GOP a Senate majority.

The crime issue appears to be making the biggest impact is in Wisconsin, where Republican incumbent Senator Ron Johnson has used his opponent Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes’ idiotic statements about bail to score big. And the issue is extremely relevant after Christmas parade shooter Darrell Brooks’ trial began this week.

“These messages work because it’s not just a commercial. [Voters] see the problem every time they turn on the TV,” a Wisconsin Republican operative with knowledge of Johnson’s campaign strategy told NBCNews.

Another Republican ad claims Barnes “stands with ‘defund the police,’” while still others have tied him to “the squad,” a group of progressive lawmakers in Congress, many of whom support the “defund the police” movement, while showcasing an old photo of him holding up an “Abolish ICE” T-shirt. (The Barnes campaign made it clear early in the primary that Barnes didn’t support either movement.)

Yet another ad features an old clip of Barnes saying that “reducing prison populations is now sexy” before he claims that “his administration” paroled hundreds of violent offenders — a misleading accusation that Tim Michels, the Republican nominee for governor, is also wielding against his opponent, Gov. Tony Evers, one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the country.


The ads are working. A Fox News poll released last week found that 44% of Wisconsin voters were “extremely” or “very” concerned that Barnes’ views were “too extreme” in late September — higher than the level of respondents who said they felt the same way about Johnson.

“The cratering support Democrats are seeing in competitive races around the country is the result of embracing the intellectually lazy argument of abolishing everything they don’t like,” said Chris Pack, a Republican strategist who works on Senate races and previously worked for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund. “That includes wanting to abolish incarceration of criminals along with abolishing support for law enforcement personnel.”

At the same time that Barnes was drowning Johnson with a $20 million fundraising haul last quarter, Johnson went from being down 52-45 in September in the polls to a 4-point lead. Clearly, the crime ads are propelling Johnson forward.

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The same is true in Pennsylvania for Mehmet Oz and his campaign against Lt. Governor John Fetterman. Fetterman claims to be a “law-and-order” Democrat, but his actions overseeing the parole board have left him vulnerable. Fetterman’s double-digit lead has disappeared, and the race is now within the polling margin of error.

It’s true up and down the board: Nevada, Georgia, Florida, and Oregon all feature races that are being impacted in the GOP’s favor by the crime issue. After the Democrats took a shellacking in 2020, they vowed not to let it happen again. They had learned their lesson and would counter the Republicans’ “lies” with the “facts.”


But being “soft on crime” is a hard label to shake. And the Democrats are having a hard time staying true to their core constituency while disavowing what the constituency is demanding.


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