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A huge win in Wisconsin shows Dems how fiercely defending abortion rights can kneecap the GOP in 2024

A woman shouts into a megaphone at a protest for abortion rightsAbortion rights demonstrators in Washington, DC.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

  • Expect Democrats to make abortion rights a dominant theme in 2024.
  • A recent Wisconsin election offered the latest example of the issue winning big with voters.
  • The Democratic party chair there says it’s “vital” that party members convey their position.

You probably won’t need to guess what politicians think about abortion when you vote in 2024. 

Expect Democrats to make sure of that, especially after a recent Wisconsin election further demonstrated the power of abortion rights at the ballot box.

Janet Protasiewicz, a progressive Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge backed by Democrats, crushed her conservative opponent in a nonpartisan state Supreme Court race by an 11-percentage-point margin after making her personal views supporting abortion rights clear.

The lesson is that, a year after the toppling of Roe v. Wade, “voters are furious about their personal freedoms being ripped away,” Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler told Insider, and “every Democratic candidate should convey with crystal clarity that they will stand up for reproductive freedom and for democracy.”

Democrats have historically shied away from the topic of abortion, especially in evenly divided states like Wisconsin. But since the April 4 election, Wikler has been telling Democrats across the country to lean into it. It’s “vital” that they convey their position — and their opponents’ position — up and down the ballot, said Wikler.

“This issue, and the fury that the public felt and still feels about it, moved the margins outside of the realm of normal politics in a 50-50 state,” he said.

‘Republican control would bring us closer to a nationwide abortion ban’

With polls showing most of the country supports abortion rights, the issue is quickly becoming an electoral nightmare for Republicans. Democrats have seized on the issue and possible Republican presidential contenders seem to be putting themselves on the losing side of it. 

Just this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with almost no fanfare, quietly signed legislation banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, prompting a quick rebuke from Democrats.

The DeSantis bill is “the latest salvo of abortion extremism as 2024 Republican hopefuls work to out-MAGA each other – and remind America that Republican control would bring us closer to a nationwide abortion ban,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison said in a statement.

Abortion rights advocates protest outside the White HouseAbortion rights advocates protest outside the White House in July 2022.

Jose Luis Magana/File/AP

Roe’s reversal had a clear effect on the midterms. In a post-election survey, nearly 4 out of 10 voters said the decision had a major impact on their decision to vote, and of that group 56% voted for Democratic congressional candidates, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Abortion was a key factor in closely watched gubernatorial races in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania and helped shape Senate races in Arizona and Pennsylvania as well.

The stakes for abortion rights were high in April’s election in Wisconsin, where a challenge to the state’s 1849 ban on nearly all abortions except for women who are dying is making its way through the courts. 

Given that a strong showing in 2024 for Republicans could result in a national abortion ban, the lesson from Wisconsin’s court race is “very transferable,” Wikler said. “There’s a very parallel question that voters are going to face nationwide and in Wisconsin in the 2024 presidential race, and House races and Senate races,” he said.

A ‘dynamite’ combination

Ads for Protasiewicz conveyed that her opponent Dan Kelly, who was endorsed by anti-abortion groups, was “too extreme” for Wisconsin. The central piece of evidence, Wikler said, was abortion and the second was democracy. Kelly reportedly advised state GOP officials on a fake electors scheme to overturn the 2020 election results.

When voters were asked after the election what motivated them, “abortion was in first place by a mile.” The party’s research showed it was the biggest reason why voters cast ballots for Protasiewicz and the biggest issue that led their opposition to Kelly.

“You can link abortion and democracy through the theme of extremism,” he said. “And that combination is dynamite.”

Wikler has been in close touch with the DNC before and after the election, but since the April 4 victory, he’s also increasingly talking with other state party chairs and campaigns across the country.. “I think the whole White House and DNC team have kept a very close eye on what’s happening in the Badger State,” he said.

Democrats poured money and high-wattage endorsements into the race in Wisconsin, a battleground Democrats can’t take for granted in 2024. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris signed fundraising emails for the state party promoting Protasiewicz, and former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in via Twitter.

—Tina Smith (@TinaSmithMN) April 12, 2023

 

Steve Schale, CEO of Unite the Country, a pro-Biden Super PAC, said he wasn’t surprised by Protasiewicz’s margin of victory, based on abortion discussions in focus groups that he led in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. 

“Anybody who thinks that choice is not going to be a massive motivating issue for voters in 2024 hasn’t been talking to actual voters,” Schale told Insider. “I was blown away. It came up early in focus groups, voluntarily, and not just from women.”

A Republican position of being pro-life, without exceptions, “impeaches a candidate,” making them unacceptable to a majority of voters in most states, said Jeff Timmer, a former Michigan Republican Party executive director who left the party and now advises the Lincoln Project.

The bigger context in the Wisconsin race is that it was an election between someone seen as “normal” versus someone seen as “extreme or radical,” he said. “And I think the normal will win that fight,” he said.

Dems shift to talking openly about abortion

The Democratic Party has rapidly changed its views on abortion. There are still some in the party, such as Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who claim personal opposition to abortion but their ranks are thinning quickly. The Clinton-era axiom of “safe, legal, and rare” and the Obama doctrine of trying to “reduce the need for abortions” is virtually absent in the post-Roe reality. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won reelection easily in the swing state in part by explicitly campaigning to repeal Michigan’s 1931 ban. 

Instead, Democrats talk about abortion openly. Seven lawmakers have shared their own personal abortion stories, including Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, and Barbara Lee of California. Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, who runs his party’s campaign arm, has discussed how his ex-wife received an abortion amid worries that pregnancy complications would endanger her life. 

“My story is one that’s tragically shared by so many Americans,” Peters wrote in a tweet. “It’s a story of gut-wrenching and complicated decisions — but it’s important for folks to understand families face these situations every day.”

Read the original article on Business Insider