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Analysis: Are Republicans better off without Ron Johnson?

“I don’t feel any pressure to make it, really, anytime soon,” Johnson told The Associated Press on Thursday of his decision, adding: “I’m undecided.”
Which is interesting — on a lot of levels, but none more so than this: Would Senate Republicans have a better chance of holding the seat if Johnson decided to retire?
That isn’t a question that I would ask about most incumbents weighing whether or not to run. After all, incumbents, historically, have had a much higher rate of success in holding on to their seats than the average candidate.
(One example: Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has yet to announce whether he will run again in 2022, would have a MUCH better chance of holding the seat for Republicans than any replacement candidate if he decides to retire.)
But Johnson isn’t just any incumbent representing just any state. He’s a very controversial senator who has spent the last few years acting as though he represents a Republican fortress like Idaho or Mississippi when in fact he currently holds a Senate seat in Wisconsin.

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There was that time when Johnson said the media was overblowing the number of people who were dying from the coronavirus. And the time he demanded that Attorney General Bill Barr provide evidence that there wasn’t fraud in the 2020 election. And that other time when Johnson said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi impeached Donald Trump to distract from her role in the January 6 Capitol riot.
There’s more. Much, much more. But you get the idea.
None of Johnson’s out-there positioning fits the swing nature of Wisconsin. This is a state that Trump won narrowly in 2016 and Biden won by 0.6 percentage point (20,000 votes) last November. Democrats control seven of the eight statewide elected offices in Wisconsin, with Johnson the lone Republican.
In short, this isn’t a state where Johnson’s Trumpy-ness will play all that well. (Donald Trump himself is, not surprisingly, all in for Johnson to run for a third term; “He has no idea how popular he is,” the former President said earlier this year. “Run, Ron, Run!”)
While few Republicans have talked about their interest in an open-seat race — out of deference to Johnson — there are five GOP members in the state’s House delegation, several of whom would likely take a look at the race and none of whom would start with the negatives of Johnson.
The Point: With Republicans needing just a single-seat gain to retake the majority in 2022, every seat counts. And Wisconsin is going to be a major battleground no matter what. The real question is whether Republicans would have a better chance without Ron Johnson in the race.
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