The Democratic primary that could determine the future of abortion rights
Ahead of the state’s Aug. 9 primary, the Supreme Court deer decision has supercharged competition among leading Democratic candidates to take on Johnson. Their stampede illustrates the party’s intense focus on picking the best candidate to capitalize on progressive energy over the High Court’s ruling, which halted Planned Parenthood abortion proceedings in the state.
« We need people who are willing to step up to get rid of the filibuster and to pass the laws in this country that we desperately need, » the senator said. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). « We need pro-choice fighters. »
Warren, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (DS.C.) back Mandela Barnes, the 35-year-old Wisconsin lieutenant governor who has led the polls for months. However, 34-year-old Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry is catching up after spending millions of dollars.
That’s not all: 40-year-old state treasurer Sarah Godlewski and 46-year-old Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson fill the top tier of candidates in a state with a history of surprising Democratic primaries.
The four candidates provide a generational contrast to the tempestuous Johnson, who at 67 is seeking his third term after twice defeating former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). Every Democratic candidate wants to eliminate the filibuster to preserve deerand no one believes in abortion restrictions.
The biggest difference between them concerns the addition of Supreme Court seats, a liberal goal that Nelson supports, Barnes is open to, and Godlewski and Lasry oppose.
progressive representative Marc Pocan (D-Wis.) agreed that little separates the abortion quartet. But with the stakes so high for Democrats, all four are going all out to cast themselves as the biggest abortion rights advocates in the main field.
Barnes, who would be the state’s first black senator if elected, said his record in Wisconsin politics was « a very dear friend of Planned Parenthood. » Lasry says his wife’s work for Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin allows him to see « first-hand every day » the fight for abortion rights. Godlewski says she can more effectively pursue the case against Johnson as the only woman in the Democratic primary, while Nelson touts her ratings with abortion rights groups.
The race has a decidedly nice Midwestern vibe, with the contestants generally remaining publicly educated on Johnson rather than each other — though there’s plenty of backstage chatter. And since the Democrats must beat Johnson to hope to execute their program next year, party leaders are trying to keep it that way.
« If someone does something unfair, I call them first, personally. And if they don’t stop doing it, I’ll call them publicly. I haven’t had to do that yet, part two. I had to do part one a couple of times, » said Pocan, who is a neutral in the Senate primary and described his role as « just trying to keep the peace. »
That could get tougher as national attention shifts to the swinging four-state skirmish. In an interview, Barnes strongly questioned the nomination of a wealthy candidate like Lasry or Godlewski to take on Johnson, himself a wealthy conservative businessman.
“If our case to the voters is that our multi-millionaire is better than the Republicans’ multi-millionaire? I don’t see that as a winning message. People are tired of the millionaire club. They want people in Washington to understand exactly what they’re going through,” Barnes said.
Asked to respond, Lasry said he didn’t want to engage in a « show » but took a subtle photo himself.
« What voters are tired of are these career politicians with no track record of accomplishment…just always looking for the next thing to run for, » Lasry said.
Godlewski said she kicked off her campaign with abortion access messages, adding that when « you look at other people in this race, they just decided to talk about it recently. »
But if there’s anyone who really tests Pocan’s peacemaking skills in the Senate primary, it’s Nelson, who presents himself as the purest progressive.
« It’s one thing to be an advocate for women’s reproductive rights in a blue part of the state, totally different in a red or purple part of the state, » Nelson said of his time at the state legislature. “Mandela was there for two terms, but he represented one of the most Democratic and pro-choice districts in the state. You know, whoop-dee-doo.
Barnes led the latest Marquette University poll with 25% of 369 Democratic primary voters, while Lasry had 21%, Godlewski 9% and Nelson 7%. Several Democrats recalled that Feingold came out of nowhere in 1992 to win the party’s Senate nomination with iconic ads claiming Elvis’s endorsement and declaring he would not « bow » to insults from his opponents. .
In other words, residents of the state warn that a lot can change in six weeks, and all four candidates seem competitive with Johnson. Additionally, more than a third of the primary electorate is undecided, a sign that Wisconsin’s primary is under the radar just five weeks before Election Day.
“This race has always been competitive. And not many people talked about it,” Sen said. Ben Ray Lujan (DN.M.), who said the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm was smart to stay neutral.
According to the candidates, however, the deer The reversal — along with Johnson’s anti-abortion stance and confusing responses about his staff passing on a fake voter note on Jan. 6 — brought the messy primary to the forefront of voters’ minds. Barnes said he had his best fundraising day on the day of the Supreme Court ruling, and Lasry said it « crystallizes the stakes of this election » against Johnson.
« It really upset the race, » Nelson said. « The pro-choice team has been on defense for 50 years, and now they’re on offense. »
Johnson welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion, but said it would be up to states to determine specific abortion policies. That proved difficult in Wisconsin, which has a Democratic governor, a GOP-controlled legislature and an 1849 law restricting abortion. As Godlewski said, “We’re not going to be able to do this at the state level. So our only hope is to get that done at the federal level.
This is going to require a direct follow-up from the Democrats: keep the House, protect all their Senate incumbents and take two seats, probably including Wisconsin. Along with anti-filibuster John Fetterman already winning the Democratic Senate nomination from Pennsylvania, that makes the US Dairyland primary one of the most vital political dates left on the calendar this year for Democrats.
“Unless we eliminate Ron Johnson, we will never have a majority in the Senate,” Pocan said. « We try to keep everyone focused on the prize. »