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In Wisconsin, the U.S. Senate race has not been decided

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Nevada election could have a lot to do with who controls the United States Senate, which is still up in the air. So, too, could a senatorial election in Wisconsin where Republican Ron Johnson has been facing reelection. And it's been a very tough campaign and a very, very close election this morning, although it appears that Johnson has the advantage. Let's go to a different Johnson - Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio. Good morning.

SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: I'm just looking at the numbers here. With more than 2 1/2 million votes cast, it appears that only 30,000 votes or so separate Ron Johnson from Mandela Barnes - very close campaign.

JOHNSON: It is very close. And oddly enough, we have gotten very used to it in the state of Wisconsin. I mean, you look at the last few races that we've had for president in 2016 and 2020, they were decided by around 21,000 votes or so. Our last race for governor in 2018 was decided by around 30,000 votes. So, yes, that's a very close race for Senator Ron Johnson. Are people going to be shocked by that this morning? Probably not.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And I guess we should just note - it's not been called yet. It's not been decided. It seems to me, looking at the numbers, there's maybe another 30,000 votes outstanding in Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, which would be a heavily Democratic area. So it's conceivable that Mandela Barnes makes up that 30,000, but it's looking like kind of a longshot for him at this point.

JOHNSON: It is, yeah. I mean, as you saw the votes roll in, Senator Johnson has performed well where he needed to. And, you know, you've had this crossover voting in some places in Wisconsin where somebody going for Ron Johnson and Democratic Governor Tony Evers.

INSKEEP: As best you can tell, why did Tony Evers do better - the Democratic governor who has won reelection?

JOHNSON: I think if you look at where Tony Evers did well, he exceeded expectations in places like Milwaukee County, in places like Dane County, the home of Madison, which has become increasingly important to Democrats. If this was going to be a Republican year, those numbers would have trailed off, but Democrats did especially well there. You also saw Evers do especially well in places where Republicans - where Democrats have made gains in recent years. The suburbs of Milwaukee - there was some question about whether that was going to trail off and those suburbs might swing back to Republicans this time around. They didn't. They still went Republican, but Democrats definitely made gains there. And then you saw the Republican challenger, Tim Michels, just not make up for it in the broad swath of counties across Wisconsin, rural counties that Republicans always win.

INSKEEP: I just want to note, Republicans continue to dominate the state legislature in Wisconsin. They've been widely criticized for gerrymandering themselves into what seems to be a permanent advantage in Wisconsin. And I'd like to know from you, having been around the state the last several months, how much was democracy itself part of the discussion among ordinary voters?

JOHNSON: It was toward the end when you saw Democrats really pushing that, including former President Barack Obama, reaching out to their voters and saying, hey, you've got to know that if you don't go out and vote, you could have single party control in this state and nothing you can do about it. They stressed this race for the legislature, but they really stressed also the race for governor and Tony Evers' veto power.

INSKEEP: Shawn Johnson, thanks very much. Really appreciate the update.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Shawn Johnson is a reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio, where we have not called the race between Ron Johnson and Mandela Barnes. But Senator Johnson appears to have an advantage at this hour. Control of the United States Senate is still up in the air. Democrats have gained one seat, but several races are undecided. Control of the House also still to come. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Shawn Johnson
Shawn Johnson covers the State Capitol for Wisconsin Public Radio. Shawn joined the network in 2004. Prior to that he worked for WUIS-FM, a public radio station in Springfield, Illinois. There, Shawn reported on the Illinois legislature. He also managed the station's western Illinois bureau, where he produced features on issues facing rural residents. He previously worked as an Assistant Producer for WBBM-AM radio in Chicago.