On Tuesday, "the most consequential election of 2023" was held in Wisconsin, as defined by The Atlantic journalist Ronald Brownstein.
Wisconsinites voted for a vacant seat on the state Supreme Court. The two candidates were liberal Janet Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County judge, and conservative Daniel Kelly, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice. Conservatives had a 4 to 3 majority in the state Supreme Court.
According to reports from the Associated Press news agency, Protasiewicz won by a large margin of 11 percentage points, handing the majority to the liberals.
Wisconsin is in the Midwest region and is considered a swing state, meaning a state whose voters have no historical tendency to support a particular party. Between 1992 and 2012, Wisconsin was part of the so-called 'blue wall', which included 18 states that in those years had always voted for a Democratic candidate in presidential elections. This trend appeared to reverse in 2016 when the state was won by then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump by a margin of 22,748 votes.
For some time now, the Democratic Party has begun to gain some traction again in Wisconsin, as evidenced by Joe Biden's 2020 state victory and Tuesday's election to the Supreme Court seat. If, in fact, the election was officially non-partisan, the political positions of the candidates were well known and they were supported, even economically, by both parties. Liberal Protasiewicz was supported by the Democratic Party, while conservative Kelly was by the Republican Party.
The leadership of the two parties had a strong interest in the outcome of this election. Although Wisconsin is a swing state (45% of voters identify as Republican, 44% as Democrat), Republicans hold a large majority in the state's Legislative and in the state's congressional delegation.
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Six out of 8 deputies and one of the two senators are from the Republican Party. This discrepancy is due to aggressive gerrymandering of the state's district boundaries, drawn by the Republicans (gerrymandering is the political manipulation of electoral district boundaries with the intent to create an undue advantage for a party).
During her campaign, Protaswiewicz repeatedly expressed her position on Wisconsin district maps, calling them “rigged.”
Another big issue of the campaign was a law banning abortion, which went into effect last July after a US Supreme Court ruling overturned the historic Roe v. Wade sentence which regulated access to the practice. According to data provided by the tracking firm AdImpact, about a third of Protasiewicz's campaign ads concerned the judge's position on abortion rights.
As in the midterm elections, voters supported the candidate opposed to the absolute ban on abortion in Tuesday's election. According to POLITICO, "We haven't seen the end of Dobbs' impact on elections yet". If the trend of these two years were to be confirmed also in the next presidential elections, it could be a problem for any openly pro-life Republican Party candidate.
Next Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz greets supporters during her the election night watch party in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)
Another particularly significant element concerned the expenses for the electoral campaign of the candidates. According to WisPolitics.com, a total of $45 million was spent as of late last week, almost triple the previous record for a state judicial campaign. According to Douglas Keith, who tracks Supreme Court races for the Brennan Center for Justice, the spending in Wisconsin has been “more than every state Supreme Court election that occurred in 2018 combined.”
It was an election unusually marked by the political statements of the candidates, as well as by particularly aggressive rhetoric. Judge Kelly did not call Judge Protasiewicz to congratulate her. “I wish that I'd be able to concede to a worthy opponent, but I do not have a worthy opponent,” Justice Kelly told his supporters, and concluded his speech by saying, “I wish Wisconsin the best of luck because I think it's going to need it.”
Edited by: Ritaja Kar
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