Wisconsin abortion fight could rock 2022 governor and Senate races

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WATERTOWN, Wis. — Heather O’Neill hasn’t been very active in politics since 2011 and 2012, when she joined a wave of protests against union rights and pay cuts for public servants.

But on Tuesday night, O’Neill ventured to a Democratic picnic with her husband, Jesse, setting up lawn chairs to hear a top candidate trying to unseat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. Days earlier, the couple had come out to protest the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, joined by their 16-year-old daughter.

“Just thinking she has fewer rights than I did when I was her age is really heartbreaking,” O’Neill said at the Jefferson County Democrats’ picnic, which drew a few dozen. of people from a Republican-leaning area of ​​small towns. and farms. “It just made me feel like we had to get involved again.”

Democrats hope for the fall of roe deer — the landmark case that made abortion a constitutional right for nearly half a century — can liven up their voters in an otherwise tough election year. Wisconsin – where an 1849 law now bans nearly all abortions – will be an eye-opening test case that encompasses many political forces that are sparking an explosive national debate.

Democratic candidates in highly competitive races for governor, Congress and other offices have put abortion front and center in recent days, pledging clemency for Wisconsin doctors and efforts to end the Senate filibuster blocking federal abortion rights legislation.

Abortion is now prohibited in these states. See where the laws have changed.

“We will fight,” Gov. Tony Evers (D), who is seeking reelection and working to thwart the abortion ban, said in an interview with The Washington Post this week. “We will fight in any way possible to retain what we have had for 50 years.”

While some are already seeing signs of heightened Democratic energy in this purple state, pollsters say it’s too early to draw conclusions about how abortion will factor into the results here in November. Wisconsin Republicans also see the issue as a motivator for their base.

During a GOP gubernatorial debate this week, candidates enthusiastically endorsed the state’s 19th-century law, which only allows abortions to save a mother’s life and makes no exceptions. for rape or incest. Doctors who perform the procedure could face up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

“I will not hesitate to remove district attorneys who refuse to follow the law,” said former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, one of the top candidates. Business leader Tim Michels, another prominent candidate, who is backed by former President Donald Trump, has also voiced his support for the state abortion ban.

Outside a Planned Parenthood in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Republican Anne Franczek stood alone on the sidewalk waiting to hand out birth control pamphlets, not far from her car with a “TRUST JESUS” bumper sticker. She ignored the passing young man, saying, “If you know anyone who needs an abortion, I’ll drive people to Illinois.

When asked how she felt after the Supreme Court ruling, Franczek, 64, struggled to speak for 10 seconds. She put her face in her hands.

“Finally, there is hope for these little babies to live instead of be killed,” she said.

Wisconsin is a key medium-term state that will help decide Senate control, in addition to the implications of the election in the state. Democrats are encouraged by some recent developments, including increased political donations. Beyond November, Wisconsin is set to be a crucial battleground in 2024, after two consecutive presidential elections here were decided by less than a percentage point.

Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul (D), who is also seeking re-election, announced a lawsuit this week to block enforcement of the ban, arguing the 173-year-old law has ‘fallen into disuse’ and that more recent legislation prohibiting abortion after the point of fetal viability should prevail. At a press conference Tuesday, Evers pointed out that the old law was passed decades before women won the right to vote.

Ahead of the August 9 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, every candidate has addressed the issue of abortion in personal terms. Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry talks about his wife, who works at Planned Parenthood Wisconsin, now being forced to stop abortions. “What voters are starting to see are the stakes in this election,” he said in an interview. Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, the slight favorite in the recent Marquette Law School poll, tells the crowds about his mother’s decision to terminate a risky pregnancy.

Addressing people gathered around picnic tables in Watertown on Tuesday, Barnes acknowledged people were angry at Democratic inaction.

“I’m telling you, if you send me to the United States Senate and we get one more vote, we’ll have that pro-choice majority in the United States that will make abortion the access law of the country,” said Barnes, whose campaign broke its record for individual donations the day roe deer was overthrown. People applauded.

Fifty-eight percent of Wisconsin residents say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a Marquette Law poll conducted just before the Supreme Court ruling. last Friday, while 35% say it should be illegal in all or most cases. Independents who lean toward a single party tend to reflect that party’s views on abortion, poll director Charles Franklin said, while truly low-end independents lean toward abortion access. .

A national poll found Democrats more concerned about abortion than Republicans in May after a draft advisory was quashed roe deer was leaked, Franklin said. Still, Republicans have become the most enthusiastic about voting in the past two months in Wisconsin – two-thirds saying they were very enthusiastic in June, compared to 58% of Democrats. Now, according to some strategists, the actual decision – and its instantaneous impact on the state – will be a game-changer.

“A question like this can absolutely make a difference in statewide elections,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler.

Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki said he expects Deer’s defeat to galvanize young voters and college-educated women and potentially “re-create the coalition that turned on Donald Trump” in 2020, while boosting liberal turnout overall. Sure, he said, abortion is one of many issues — but in tightly divided Wisconsin, “everything matters.”

Republican strategist Bill McCoshen said he thinks voters will focus primarily on gas prices, inflation and crime in November. Yet, he says, “from a political point of view, I think everyone is happy [the ruling] came early, June not October.

Promises by Democratic candidates to circumvent the abortion ban were a “huge topic” at a Dane County GOP meeting this week, Chairman Scott Grabins said. “Obviously, this is not a done deal,” said Grabins, whose county includes the capital, Madison. “Even pro-life individuals, Republicans – there’s still work to be done.”

Johnson, the incumbent senator, hailed the decision as a “lifetime victory” in a statement last Friday and said it would “allow this democratic process to take place in every state.” His campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Like many Republicans, Johnson has focused on criticizing the Biden administration on issues such as inflation and border policy.

The Republican-dominated state legislature declined to repeal or amend the abortion ban and quickly ended a special session Evers called for this purpose last week. State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R), who did not respond to a survey, voiced support for an exception for rape and incest cases, but many Democrats are skeptical to its realization.

With a decisive Republican majority in the legislature, Democrats are focused this cycle on conjuring up a GOP supermajority that could override the governor’s veto. They say the gerrymandering left the the Democratic-led state’s unrepresentative legislature and its residents’ views on abortion, making Evers a crucial bulwark.

“I guess they might try to take away my clemency rights,” Evers said of the Republican lawmakers in the interview. Whatever they try, he says, he will veto.

“If he’s not here, then we might as well be in Texas,” said Leslie DeMuth, who knocked on voters’ doors in low frequency for what she calls “deep canvassing” – in-depth conversations with voters on the issues on their mind. Women are crazy about abortion, she says.

After the gutting of the draft notice roe deer leaked, about a dozen Democratic candidates “came out of the fence” and jumped into state Assembly races — even ones they are unlikely to win, said Wikler, chairman of the Democratic Party of the state. “They couldn’t sit on the sidelines.”

Some in Wisconsin say Democrats should have focused on abortion access much earlier. Democratic US Senate candidate Sarah Godlewski – who focused on the potential loss of roe deer in a six-figure advertising investment last fall – said in an interview that his campaign recorded its highest number of individual donations yet on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“I’m frustrated with my own party,” Godlewski, the only woman in her primary, said at a rally outside the Wisconsin Capitol on Monday, flanked by doctors in white coats. “We’ve had 50 years to codify this into law, but for some reason we just haven’t found a way to prioritize this.” Like others in the race, she wants the Senate to get rid of the filibuster, which effectively requires 60 votes to pass federal legislation codifying the right to terminate a pregnancy.

One of the youngest people at the event where Barnes spoke on Tuesday was 14-year-old Becca Jesse, who learned that roe deer ended with videos on TikTok.

It’s scary, she says, because very young girls can get pregnant and be forced to give birth. “It’s just disgusting,” she said.


Washington

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