Democrats target Johnson, Rubio for votes against COVID-19 relief package

DSCC’s first ads show aid measure’s importance to 2022

New Democratic digital ads are targeting Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson for voting against the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
New Democratic digital ads are targeting Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson for voting against the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 8, 2021 at 6:00am

The campaign arm of Senate Democrats is launching its first ads of the 2022 cycle with new digital spots targeting two Republicans for voting against the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that passed the chamber Saturday along party lines.

The 30-second videos on YouTube, shared first with CQ Roll Call, knock Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Marco Rubio of Florida and are part of a “five-figure” digital effort by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

One ad features music playing as yellow and white text appears over video footage that includes health care workers and empty school hallways.

“While our communities are still suffering, Ron Johnson voted against: $1,400 direct relief checks for Wisconsinites, increasing access to vaccinations, local funding to safely reopen schools, aid for small businesses and restaurants,” the text on screen reads.

The ads are an early sign that Democrats view the relief package as a salient campaign issue, with recent national polls showing that the bill is popular. For example, some 62 percent of Americans supported the measure, according to a Feb. 25 to March 1 Monmouth University poll. And 78 percent supported the $1,400 payments, a Jan. 28 to Feb. 1 Qunnipiac University poll found.

“This was a dangerous and harmful vote against a broadly popular COVID-19 relief plan, and we will continue to hold Republicans accountable,” DSCC spokesman Stewart Boss said in a statement. 

GOP sees unnecessary spending

Republicans have criticized the package as unnecessary spending that doesn’t actually address the current health crisis.  

“This is not Covid relief — it is a massive debt burden that further mortgages our children’s future,” Johnson said in a statement Saturday. “I support helping people truly affected by the pandemic, but we should have targeted the unspent $1 trillion from previous bills first. The economy is already in a strong recovery, and this bill could spark harmful inflation. It was unneeded and unwise.”

While Rubio voted against the package, one of his amendments was adopted as part of a 24-hour marathon of amendment votes. Rubio and Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, the top two senators on the Intelligence Committee, offered an amendment that would allow some classified government contractors to reimburse employees who were “unable to perform work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Both Johnson and Rubio are top Democratic targets in 2022, with Democrats looking to expand their razor-thin Senate majority. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates both races as competitive

Donald Trump won Florida by 3 points in November, while he lost Wisconsin to Joe Biden by less than a point. Republicans are also defending competitive open seats in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where Sens. Patrick J. Toomey and Richard M. Burr are respectively retiring.

Johnson has not yet said whether he is running for a third term. He had originally pledged to only serve two Senate terms. On Friday, Johnson told reporters he has still not decided on seeking reelection but said keeping his two-term pledge is “probably my preference now,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal.