Alex Lasry, a Democratic nominee for the Senate in Wisconsin, plans to step out of the primary on Wednesday, his campaign confirmed.
The decision means frontrunner Mandela Barnes, the state’s 34-year-old lieutenant governor, is firmly positioned to take on Republican Senator Ron Johnson in November.
Lasry, an executive for the Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise, acknowledged that he was not on his way to victory and that the calculation was made to “seek party unity now,” a source familiar with his decision but not authorized to act on. the issue, said in an interview.
A source with the Lasry campaign said the candidate spoke to Barnes on Tuesday and informed him of the decision. Barnes then started calling people after he got the news, the source said. The two will appear at a press conference later today.
“I’m so grateful to Alex for all the work he’s done to move Wisconsin forward, and I’m proud of his support,” Barnes said in a statement. “During this race I have always been proud to call Alex a friend. I look forward to continuing that friendship as we hit the road.”
Lasry’s decision was first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Recent polls had shown a close race between Lasry and Barnes. Last month’s Marquette University Law School poll found that Barnes received 25% support from registered Democratic primary voters, while Lasry got 21%. State treasurer Sarah Godlewski received 9% support in the poll.
Lasry’s departure from the race comes a day after Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson pulled out. However, Lasry’s name will still be on the ballot next week, despite his decision. Early voting began in Wisconsin on Tuesday, and the state election commission reported that nearly 139,000 absentee ballots had already been returned on Wednesday.
His departure came despite huge personal expenses on the race. Lasry put at least $12.3 million of his personal wealth into his campaign — money that made him the biggest ad publisher in the race by a significant margin. Lasry has spent $10.7 million through Wednesday on TV, radio and digital advertising, according to ad tracking company AdImpact, more than double the amount Barnes and Godlewski spent together.
Lasry had several conversations with Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin in the days leading up to this decision, asking her for advice, the campaign source said. Lasry also spoke with Governor Tony Evers beforehand. While the most recent Marquette Law School poll nearly had Lasry and Barnes neck and neck, the campaign source said there were signs that Lasry was slipping away in the polls and wanting to act quickly to beat Johnson.
Now the priceless favorite in the August 9 primaries, Barnes will be able to turn his attention to the general election against Johnson, who is seeking a third term.
The stakes for the Democrats couldn’t be higher. Senate control could depend on the Wisconsin Senate race — one of only two Republican seats up for grabs in states that Biden won in 2020. The race is judged as a toss-up by the unbiased political Cook report.
Lasry, who is originally from New York, moved to Milwaukee in 2014 after his father, Marc Lasry, bought the Milwaukee Bucks with a group of investors. The younger Lasry has since served as the senior vice president for the basketball franchise.
He launched his campaign in early 2021, praising his work for the organization, his efforts to bring the 2020 Democratic National Convention to Milwaukee, and his support for a higher minimum wage and racial justice and movements. He also referred to himself as a “Make it in America” Democrat in many advertisements, gaining the support of many union leaders in the state.
Lasry, however, has never caught up with Barnes’ lead in the polls.
Meanwhile, Barnes gained even more momentum in recent weeks, amid a string of high-profile approvals — including from the Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Cory Booker from New Jersey. He was too early to label himself a progressive in the race – a move some political viewers have made have noticed already attracted Republican attacks.
Barnes, who takes his middle name in honor of the former South African president and anti-apartheid activist, grew up in downtown Milwaukee and attended Alabama A&M, a historically black university. He worked as a community organizer before winning a seat on the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2012, representing part of the north side of Milwaukee.
After winning the 2018 Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor, Barnes and now-Gov. Tony Evers has overthrown Scott Walker, a two-term Republican. That win made Barnes the first black person to hold the office and only the second black to ever win a statewide race in Wisconsin. He would be the first black senator to represent Wisconsin if he wins the general election against Johnson.
Ben Kamisar and Joe Maronskic contributed.