It took some national Democratic leaders a little while after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade to understand that voter anger was real and not going away. But top to bottom, the party now appears to understand the power of the issue and be ready to run hard on abortion in 2024. Wisconsin Democrats definitely are.
Thanks to the Supreme Court and Wisconsin Republicans, an 1849 abortion ban is now in force in the state. With a challenge to that law making its way through the courts, voters went to the polls in April and elected Janet Protasiewicz to the state supreme court by 11 points over an anti-abortion extremist. An appeal is expected to land at the Wisconsin Supreme Court during the 2024 Senate campaign, with Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin up for reelection in the narrowly divided battleground state.
“The debate over who should make those decisions, whether women and their doctors, or Republican politicians, is a debate that Sen. Baldwin is ready to have,” Wisconsin Democratic Party Executive Director Ben Wikler told NBC News. The state party is already taking on Baldwin’s likely opponents even though the Republican primary field isn’t yet set. But there’s plenty to blast among the prospective candidates, like Rep. Tom Tiffany, who cosponsored a 2021 Republican attempt to pass a national six-week abortion ban, or former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has compared abortion to “genocide.”
Despite April’s state supreme court blowout, Wisconsin Republicans aren't trying to blunt voter anger over abortion rights: Republicans in the state Senate recently voted unanimously to keep the 1849 law in place, and they’re using the same tired talking points that failed them in 2022. “I think we haven’t done a very good job of explaining just how radical the Democrats’ view is,” Wisconsin Republican Party Executive Director Mark Jefferson told NBC News. “Democrats are the really extreme ones.” Check. “We just need to say the same things a little differently and then people will get it.” Check.
The specific angle they plan to use in attacking Baldwin is her support for the Women’s Health Protection Act, a 2023 bill “[t]o protect a person’s ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide abortion services.” Republicans think they really have something here because the bill allowed post-viability abortions to protect the life of the mother. That’s the extreme position they’re going to hammer Baldwin on, claiming that exactly what it means to protect the life of the mother isn’t adequately defined in the bill. This from the party that has been forcing women having miscarriages into near-death situations because of the functional lack of life of the mother exceptions in its abortion bans.
Similar scenarios are playing out in other states. Pennsylvania featured one of 2022’s highest-profile Senate races and is expected to be only slightly less prominent a battleground in 2024, with Democratic Sen. Bob Casey up for reelection. One of the top Republican prospects to challenge Casey is David McCormick, who narrowly lost the 2022 Republican Senate primary to Mehmet Oz.
In 2022, McCormick said he opposed abortion except “in the very rare instances there should be exceptions for the life of the mother.” In 2023, looking ahead to 2024, he suddenly “supports exceptions in the cases of rape, incest and saving the life of the mother,” according to a spokesperson. Pennsylvania Democrats are already running digital ads against McCormick, and I don’t expect that his newfound support for rape and incest exceptions in abortion bans will blunt the issue.
Democrats face a tough Senate map in 2024, defending incumbents in red states like Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Sen. Jon Tester in Montana, and Sen. Joe Manchin (I know, I know) in West Virginia, as well as in battleground states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Nevada, where Sen. Jackie Rosen is up for reelection. In battleground Michigan, Sen. Debbie Stabenow is retiring. In Arizona, there’s the Kyrsten Sinema problem. Republicans have around half as many seats to defend, with most in deep red states. It will be difficult for Democrats to keep their narrow Senate majority in 2024, but at least Republicans are doing what they can to help when it comes to reminding voters who’s on the right side on abortion rights.