Abortion helped sink conservative in pivotal Wisconsin Supreme Court election

Wisconsin Supreme Court
FILE – Janet Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County Judge and state Supreme Court contender participates in a candidate forum at Monona Terrace in Madison, Wis. Jan. 9, 2023. John Hart/AP

Abortion helped sink conservative in pivotal Wisconsin Supreme Court election

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Republicans lost big in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election Tuesday night, betting badly that backing an 1849 abortion ban in a general election with huge policy stakes would net them a win. 

Instead, a liberal judge who has a history of being soft on crime bulldozed her way into a technically nonpartisan seat on the state’s highest court by openly vowing to protect a woman’s right to choose.


Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz defeated conservative candidate former Justice Daniel Kelly in a race that was framed as the most important of the 2023 election cycle.

Protasiewicz pitched herself frequently as the candidate who would protect women’s reproductive rights, shattering long-held beliefs about how judicial candidates should conduct their campaigns. The calculation to make abortion the center of hers paid off handsomely.

Her blowout win gives liberals a one-vote majority in determining the fate of abortion rights, partisan political maps, and possibly a say in the 2024 presidential election.

It also signals to Democrats that the trend seen during the 2022 midterm elections, in which pro-abortion rights took center stage, has only strengthened.

“The Wisconsin elections showed that choice is still as salient as a driving force for turnout and persuasion as it was in last year’s midterms,” Tom Bonier, the CEO of the political data firm TargetSmart, said. “Republicans continue to underperform due to the widespread perception of their extremism, something that the Dobbs [v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization] decision brought into clear focus.”

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon agrees. He told the Washington Examiner that Kelly might have done better had he not prioritized abortion, adding that data from previous elections showed abortion topped crime among issues Wisconsin voters were concerned about the most. 

“Abortion is a bad issue for them to attack Democrats on,” he said. “The abortion issue is just killing the Republican Party, and Wisconsin is a classic example of it. And they just refuse to learn from it.”

Bannon believes while the fight over abortion may have a place in the primaries, using it in the general election is “a complete no-no,” and “if they don’t learn from this loss in Wisconsin, the same thing is going to happen next November.”

One Republican political consultant called abortion his party’s “kryptonite” and said the GOP needs to get on the same page or it will end in another Wisconsin disaster.

At the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre praised Protasiewicz’s win as a sign that voters across the country are focused on protecting abortion rights.


“Time and time again, the American people have shown their resolute support for reproductive freedom in our democracy, and last night was no different,” she said at Wednesday’s White House briefing. “The message from voters has been clear. Americans want the freedom to make reproductive healthcare decisions without government interference. They have been very clear about that.”

She also called out Florida, North Carolina, and Nebraska for “attempting to pass extreme abortion bills.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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