MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A “panicked” Sen. Ron Johnson urged members of the state chamber of commerce in battleground Wisconsin on Wednesday to vote for President Donald Trump, saying he has been praying for a victory and “the other side is not in love with this country.”
Johnson, a Republican in his second term, delivered a harsh assessment of what he thinks a win by Democrat Joe Biden would mean during a virtual meeting of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Johnson decried “anarchists” and “rioters” who he said “are going to dictate to you what you think and how you have to act.”
“This is the greatest threat to our freedom in my lifetime, which is why I am more panicked today, why I’m not being particularly uplifting,” Johnson said. “I’m telling you this so that you all use your positions, your position of influence every minute of your time between now and the election to get everybody to come out and vote.”
Johnson, a close ally of Trump, said he understands that people in Wisconsin “are not real nuts about a New York street fighter. We don’t like his tweets. We don’t like the way he behaves. But he actually believes in this country. He thinks it’s great. He knows it’s great. He wakes up every day trying to make it better, OK? The other side is not in love with this country.”
Polls have shown Biden with a narrow lead in Wisconsin, a state Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016.
Johnson, who is not on the ballot this year, said that if Democrats take majority control of the Senate, “They will never relinquish power. And that is not an overstatement.”
Phil Shulman, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, called Johnson the state’s “biggest embarrassment.”
“Instead of using his perch in the Senate to help Wisconsinites get through the COVID-19 pandemic, Ron Johnson continues to spend his time promoting dangerous conspiracy theories and fear-mongering because he knows the Badger state will send Trump packing on November 3rd,” Shulman said in an email.
Johnson, who tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month but said he had no symptoms, told the state’s business leaders on Wednesday that he thinks fears about getting sick or dying from COVID-19 are overblown, despite the more than 200,000 deaths in the U.S. from the disease.
“We have unfortunately been snookered into this mass hysteria that isn’t even close to the real risk,” Johnson said. “And so we’ve shut down our economy. We’ve had this economic devastation.”
In the face of surging COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has ordered new capacity limits on bars, restaurants and other businesses. He also imposed a statewide mask mandate.
Johnson said he thinks wearing masks is a good idea, but he opposes mandates.
Wisconsin recorded its highest one-day total of new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, with 48, bringing the total to date to 1,681. Nearly 183,000 people in the state have tested positive, an increase of 4,205 from Tuesday. The seven-day average of new confirmed cases also reached a new high of 3,444, which is nearly double what it was a month ago and more than four times what it was two months ago.
The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Wisconsin also hit a record high on Tuesday, at 1,192, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.