New abortion battle rocks Democratic battle to take on Johnson in Wisconsin


“I think that eliminates any advantage Republicans have,” Tom Nelson, an Outagamie County leader who is a Democratic Senate candidate, said of last week’s decision.

The battle brewing in Wisconsin is emblematic of the landscape facing Democrats nationwide. Top contenders — Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, Wisconsin Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Nelson — are hoping that fury from their liberal base will outweigh backlash from Democrats over the awards at high consumption and low Biden approval ratings.

For Democrats, their best bet to codify abortion rights nationally remains to retain the Senate and win at least two seats in the fall, potentially here in Wisconsin and also in Pennsylvania, while retaining a handful of swinging seats and retaining their threatened majority in the House – an extremely high order. Then they could potentially have enough support to change the filibuster rules next year and pass abortion rights with a right-wing majority, which all of Wisconsin’s leading Democratic candidates support.

Wisconsin, an eternal battleground divided between its liberal enclaves mostly in the south and rural conservatives everywhere, has become ground zero in the battle over abortion rights. With the Supreme Court’s decision, the state is now following an 1849 law that prohibits abortions and makes no exceptions for rape or incest. There are exceptions granted to save a woman’s life, but only after three doctors sign off – a standard which campaigners say can be onerous or impossible to meet, especially in rural areas.

Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, has pledged to grant clemency to ensure access to abortion will remain unfettered. But even then, abortion providers aren’t sure if they can trust this, given that Evers faces a tough re-election himself and the issue would be handled by a new administration is anybody’s guess. .

“I was frustrated that my own party didn’t prioritize that and tried to do that, and we got 50,” Godlewski said.

In interviews with CNN this week, all of Wisconsin’s top Democratic Senate candidates tried to project their progressive good faith on abortion. Lasry, 34, noted that his wife is a top Planned Parenthood Wisconsin official. Barnes said her mother had to make “the difficult decision” to have an abortion before she was born.

“And if she had been forced to carry through, it would have created all sorts of additional mental and physical health issues for her. I wouldn’t be here today,” Barnes said.

The candidates all said they would eliminate the filibuster to pass a bill through Congress restoring the right to abortion. None said they supported the restrictions, even in late pregnancy.

“It’s not for a politician to decide,” Barnes told CNN.

However, the candidates differ on the enlargement of the Supreme Court to add judges. Barnes voices an opening — “It’s a conversation I’m more than willing to have” — as Lasry and Godlewski haven’t embraced it yet and Nelson brags that he’s “the only candidate” to support the idea.

“I think it’s an appropriate solution,” Nelson said.

Johnson, a two-term senator, said he supports the court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade and attempted to redirect attention elsewhere. In a local radio interview on Wednesday, he was asked his opinion on the decision and the efforts of Democratic Wisconsin state officials to prevent enforcement of the state’s 1849 law. Johnson first called for more media coverage of a human trafficking incident in Texas that left dozens dead – saying “it’s actually much bigger news” – before saying that he endorsed the new state-by-state approach to abortion.
“It really has to be decided by ‘we the people’ in each state through probably multiple elections, with state legislators and governors eventually passing laws in their individual states,” Johnson said on WSAU. “And then, over time, we’ll probably develop some kind of nationwide consensus.”
It’s unclear how the Supreme Court’s decision will affect this year’s fight for control of Congress. Inflation remains the number one concern of Wisconsin voters, according to a Marquette University Law School poll from June, and Biden’s approval fell to 40%, its lowest in the survey since his entry into office.

Biden’s drag

But even as Democrats see abortion as a high-profile issue, they face the worst medium-term environment since Johnson won his first Senate race a dozen years ago.

Asked if he thinks Biden should run in 2024, Barnes swerved: “Well, I’m focused on that race right now. We still have to get past November 2022. We still have to expand the majority in U.S. Senate. I’m more than happy to have this conversation after deciding this race.”

“The president has to do what’s best for him,” Godlewski said when asked if she thinks Biden should mount a re-election bid.

Lasry, who worked in the Obama White House before his billionaire father bought the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014, said he would support a re-election bid by Biden.

“I think if the president wants to run again, he should run again,” Lasry said.

Asked about Biden slipping the ticket, Barnes added, “It’s a hyper local race. We’re focused on these bread-and-butter issues that affect people back home.”

Candidates have their own responsibilities that their detractors highlight.

Lasry, who like Godlewski, 40, has vast personal wealth and largely funds his campaign, has come under fire for moving from New York to take on the Bucks job in 2014.

“I don’t think New York needs a third senator,” Nelson, 46, said.

Lasry defended his shot.

“Wisconsin is my home, I’m raising my family here,” he said during an interview at a redevelopment site in Milwaukee. “And what voters are most worried about is not where someone was, but what someone is going to do and represent them and what they did.”

Barnes, 35, has won the support of some prominent liberal voices, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and he has previously been attacked by Republicans over immigration and his support for the end cash bail, as some Democratic critics fear he will. turn off intermediate voters.

Barnes, the state’s first black lieutenant governor and second African American to hold statewide office in Wisconsin, scoffed at the idea.

“My campaign is the only campaign in the Democratic primary that’s run with independent voters. It’s the only campaign that has generated any kind of excitement,” Barnes said. He added: “On a matter like cash bail, a person remaining in jail before trial should not be based on their ability to pay.”

Johnson’s Controversies

Democratic candidates have tried to race against the incumbent and his series of controversial statements – whether it’s advocating for hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 or spreading anti-vaccine misinformation during the pandemic. . Johnson raised questions about whether Trump supporters were largely responsible for the violence on January 6, 2021, and he was involved in an effort to send then-Vice President Mike Pence a list of fakes. voters on the day he presided over certification of Biden’s victory.

The Democratic rhetoric was sharp, with Barnes and Nelson calling on Johnson to step down and Lasry saying, “If you’re literally trying to bring fake voters to the vice president to make sure a fair election is overturned, that’s not what this country is. and it is treacherous and seditious.”

Johnson, 67, played down or dismissed the criticism – and he defended the most recent controversy saying it was just staff-level discussions that had taken place and that it was ‘nothing burger “of a story.

But on Tuesday, Johnson was preaching “unity” at a church and praising an inner-city religious jobs program he co-founded years ago, acknowledging that political division in the country was taking its toll on him.

“When I travel and talk to people, I often ask the question, ‘Aren’t you just tired of all the anger and division?’ asked Johnson. “God, I am. It’s exhausting.”

“This nation needs healing and unity,” he added.

After the event, Johnson closed the back door. Asked by CNN if he could answer a question, he replied: “No”.

CNN’s Morgan Rimmer and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.


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