In Context: Ron Johnson comparing the 2016 elections to 9/11

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., spoke to reporters in Green Bay on May 12, 2016 ahead of the Wisconsin Republican Party convention. He gave a speech at the convention the next day that drew sharp criticism from Democrats. (AP photo)
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., spoke to reporters in Green Bay on May 12, 2016 ahead of the Wisconsin Republican Party convention. He gave a speech at the convention the next day that drew sharp criticism from Democrats. (AP photo)

Since officially announcing his re-election campaign, Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson -- rated one of the most vulnerable U.S. senators seeking re-election in November 2016  -- has made a story about 9/11 part of his stump speech.

The story went largely unnoticed until May 14, 2016, 12 days after the campaign launch, when Johnson retold it at the Wisconsin Republican Convention in Green Bay.

The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and Politico were among national media that carried an Associated Press report from the convention. The report said Johnson had likened the 2016 elections to United Airlines Flight 93, one of the four hijacked airliners involved in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The headlines drew criticism that was swift and sharp.

"Beyond bad taste: Sen. Johnson actually compared the horrific tragedies on 9/11 to his own partisan re-election," Democrat Russ Feingold, who is challenging Johnson in a rematch of their 2010 contest, said in a tweet. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee called the remarks crass and offensive, and said Johnson should apologize.

So, how exactly did Johnson compare the upcoming elections and 9/11?

And was the comparison partisan?

Judge for yourself with In Context -- our periodic feature that fleshes out sound bites that get widespread attention.

Recent In Context articles: Donald Trump’s comments in Green Bay on punishing women who get an abortion and Scott Walker comparing himself to Green Bay Packers quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre.

Near the end of his remarks to the convention, Johnson talked about visiting wounded veterans at Walter Reed hospital and then addressed Flight 93, which was headed to Washington, D.C. before the 40 passengers and crew staged a revolt. They were able to force the plane to crash in a field in Shanksville, Pa. All on board were killed, including the hijackers.

Here's what Johnson said:

What I want to end this speech with today is something that actually ties in a story with my (Senate committee) chairmanship of Homeland Security. I was asked to accompany (U.S. Homeland Security) Secretary Jeh Johnson to a 9/11 memorial service at Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the site of the crash of United Flight 93. There were two things that made an enormous impression on me that I want to share with you.

Johnson described an exhibit at the memorial in which visitors can listen to voicemail messages that three women passengers left for their loved ones just before the crash. He continued by mentioning another passenger, Todd Beamer.

We've all heard Todd Beamer's iconic words, right? "Let's roll." I mean, how American is that? We've got a job to do. Let's roll up our shirt sleeves, let’s get it done. What the passengers of United Flight 93 did, though, right before they took the vote -- again, they understood what was happening. So they discussed it. I can't imagine they actually debated it, because these are heroes. And then they took a vote. They took a vote. Something quintessentially American.

The reason I like telling that story now, as we head into election season, is we all know what we need to do. In November of 2016, we'll be taking a vote. We’re going to be encouraging our fellow citizens to take a vote. Now, it may not be life and death like the vote the passengers on United Flight 93 took, but boy, is it consequential.

So again, the attitude I want all of you to take into this election -- because we've seen in Florida, a presidential election decided by 2,000 votes and a couple hanging chads. We saw next door in Minnesota, Norm Coleman winning that Senate seat and then all of sudden, somehow, Al Franken became the United States senator, probably for as long as he wants it.

I want each and every one one of you to understand that we’re talking about saving this country, so that your individual efforts, your time, your talents, the treasure you contribute to this effort -- you need to understand that your individual efforts, in a close election, might be those efforts, the hard work, that’ll literally save this country.

If that's the attitude we all take in, it's the attitude I'm taking in, we will save the Senate seat, we will make sure the 10 electoral votes of Wisconsin get assigned to the presidential candidate -- the Republican presidential candidate -- and we will vote to save this nation. So, God bless those efforts, God bless the great State of Wisconsin and may God continue to bless the greatest nation in the history of mankind, America. Thank you.

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