Two weeks ago, the Democratic Senate primary in Wisconsin was arguably the most closely watched primary contest on the left, pitting Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes against Alex Lasry, the Milwaukee Bucks executive who spent more than $11 million of his own money on his campaign; Wisconsin state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who also poured millions of her own money into the race; and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, a liberal leader with a loyal following in the state.
And then, in the span of a few days, the race that was became the race that wasn’t.
With internal polls showing Barnes opening a considerable lead, there were rumblings among Wisconsin Democrats that the field of four could shrink.
But few Democrats saw what happened next: Nelson, Lasry and Godlewski all ended their campaigns in the span of a few days, backed Barnes' bid against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and effectively ended the primary.
Nelson went first, announcing to his followers on July 25 that his campaign “ran out of money” so he would now endorse “the one candidate who is not trying to buy this election,” a dig against Lasry and Godlewski and an endorsement of Barnes.
Then the $11 million shoe dropped, with Lasry unexpectedly ending his bid on July 27, just weeks before the primary, telling reporters “it is clear the best person to be able to defeat Ron Johnson is Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.”
Lasry spent millions on his campaign and had just days until the primary. His campaign had even already booked television ad time for the final weeks of the campaign. But a Democratic official told CNN that a string of disappointing internal poll numbers suggested the race was out of reach in the final two weeks of the campaign.
And finally, on July 29, Godlewski ended her bid, backing Barnes and pledging to support him throughout his run.
The trio of announcements was surprising to almost all Democrats in Wisconsin — including Barnes himself.
"I could not have imagined it ending up this way," Barnes told CNN in an interview. "To me, it shows just how important beating Ron Johnson is, just how important expanding the Democratic majority is."