In the first major election in the country since a Manhattan grand jury indicted Donald Trump on 34 felony counts, progressive Judge Janet Protasiewicz cruised to an 11-point win Tuesday over her conservative rival Dan Kelly in Wisconsin’s supremely consequential battle for the ideological lean of the state’s high court.
Abortion dominated the debate, accounting for some 44% of the political ads run in the first half of the general election, according to data analysis conducted by Wisconsin Watch.
But democracy and redistricting accounted for roughly a third of the ads in that timeframe too. Specifically, Protasiewicz and her allies linked Kelly to Donald Trump’s fake elector scheme after it was revealed that Kelly had advised both the Republican National Committee and the Wisconsin Republican Party about fake GOP electors.
“In Wisconsin, extremist Dan Kelly was the right-wing lawyer behind the scenes of it all,” charged one Protasiewicz campaign television ad.
In essence, the Wisconsin Supreme Court race was a rematch of the case Democrats prosecuted against Republicans in the 2022 midterms—a one-two punch elevating reproductive freedom and pro-democracy concerns. The takeaway from Protasiewicz’s strong showing a critical swing state is that abortion and protecting democracy continue to animate a majority voters and work to the benefit of Democrats.
In fact, Trump voters, presumably still seething over dear leader’s indictment, had the opportunity to turn out in droves Tuesday and make their discontent heard in an election that had already attracted national attention. They could have interrupted this year’s developing narrative of Democratic candidates consistently overperforming 2020 presidential margins.
Instead, Democratic voters, abortion rights supporters, and pro-democracy voters commanded the headlines coming out of the Badger State’s judicial race, giving national Democrats another shot in the arm.
Although the Wisconsin race involved judicial candidates who didn’t explicitly identify by political party, the candidates themselves made the ideological lines very clear. A vote for Protasiewicz was a vote for reproductive rights and rigorous scrutiny of the state’s heavily gerrymandered maps.
In that sense, the contest had a very partisan feel akin to 15 special elections this year that have pitted a Democratic and Republican candidate against each other. Of those 15 races tracked by Daily Kos Elections, Democrats have outperformed Biden’s 2020 margins in 10 of them. On average, Democratic candidates in the special elections are also running 7 points ahead of Biden.
As Daily Kos Elections tweeted Thursday, “the patterns so far are not looking good for Republicans.”
The two most recent data points in those special elections include Wisconsin Senate District 8, where Republican Dan Knodl eked out a 2-point win over Democrat Jodi Habush Sinykin in a district Trump won by 5 points in 2020 and 10 points in 2016.
Knodl’s seat is trending away from Republicans, but his victory still cemented a GOP supermajority in the upper chamber. He is now threatening to cast a vote to impeach Protasiewicz, who has yet to serve a single day on the Supreme Court bench.
But the most sensational Democratic win of the year came two weeks ago in Virginia Senate seat 9, where Democratic Delegate Lamont Bagby prevailed by a whopping 80 points—notching a 28-point improvement over Biden’s 2020 margin in the process.
In the face of these election trends, you’d think Republicans in Wisconsin would be looking to pivot or soften their stances on abortion and redistricting. But, no. The party who used to claim they were the party of personal responsibility take zero responsibility for their failures to attract a majority of voters. Case in point, former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who used his Twitter platform to blame the youth vote, claiming “years of radical indoctrination” in schools led young voters astray.
The takeaways from Wisconsin are clear: Abortion and the intensifying GOP assault on democracy continue to be the defining issues of the 2024 cycle, and they continue to benefit Democrats. Thus far, this cycle's trend lines are perfectly consistent with Democrats’ historic overperformance in last year’s midterms for a party in control of the White House.
Progressives scored a monumental victory in Wisconsin Tuesday night when Janet Protasiewicz flipped a pivotal seat on the state Supreme Court, and we've got plenty to say about it on this week's episode of The Downballot. Not only are the electoral implications deeply worrisome for Republicans, the court's new liberal majority has the chance to revive democracy in the Badger State by restoring abortion rights and striking down gerrymandered GOP maps. It truly is a new day—and one we've long awaited—in Wisconsin.
We're also delving into the fascinating politics of Alaska with our guest this week, former state Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. Jonathan recounts his unlikely journey to the state House after winning a huge upset while still in college before explaining how Democrats, independents, and even a few Republicans forged a remarkable cross-partisan governing coalition. We also get an on-the-ground view of what Mary Peltola's stunning special election victory last year looked like to Alaska Democrats.