Top Wisconsin Democrats championed the upcoming 2024 election and emphasized campaign strategies to turn Wisconsin blue at the party’s “Justice Defend Live” panel Friday evening in Madison.
Bryan Tyler Cohen, a social media political commentator, and Leigh McGowan, podcast host of ‘PoliticsGirl,’ anchored the evening fundraising event at Monona Terrace.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, state Sen. Melissa Agard of Madison, state Rep. Greta Neubauer of Racine, and Wisconsin Secretary of State Sarah Godlewsk were among Democratic figures who made an appearance at the event.
“Wisconsin is really the road to [the] destruction of democracy, as well as the road to restoration of democracy,” Agard said.
Wisconsin plays a crucial role in the next presidential election, both Democrats and Republicans are geared up for the showdown to secure the vote toward their party. Past presidential races saw thin margins between candidates. In 2020, Biden won by 0.68% and in 2016, Trump won by 0.77%.
With an 11 point victory of progressive Justice Janet Proteceitz to the state Supreme Court this spring, Democrats hope to keep their momentum going in Wisconsin as the 2024 election approaches.
“[W]e are excited about 2024 because there is an awful lot on the line, and we know we’re going to continue marching with the same passion and conviction to defend democracy,” Agard said.
In particular, the Democrats have visited Wisconsin throughout the past year. President Biden visited Milwaukee on Aug. 15, Vice President Kamala Harris toured Pleasant Prairie on Aug. 4 and Jill Biden stopped by Madison on Aug. 31 to bolster the Biden administration’s campaign.
Republicans aren’t lagging behind. The first GOP presidential primary debate took place in Milwaukee, and the party plans to return to the city in July 2024 to host the Republican National Convention.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin both visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the past month to meet with student voters, a group crucial to recent narrow Democratic wins in statewide elections.
Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin for the last four years, also made an appearance. Wikler said it is critical for Wisconsin Democrats to block Republicans from retaking the White House.
Wikler told The Daily Cardinal the Wisconsin Democrat’s goal in the next year is to reach “voters across all different communities, geographies, generations, races and ethnicities”, and to not “write off” past Republican voters.
“There will be forces outside of our control, but what we can control is sustained focus and energy, actually engaging with people and meeting them where they are,” Wilker said.
In June, the Republican National Committee announced a “Bank Your Vote” program to send digital reminders informing Republican voters about pre-election day voting options, a shift from the party’s resistance to early voting in the 2020 presidential election. Wisconsin will be the first state to roll out this program.
Wikler said “Bank Your Vote” is a response to the large number of Democrats that used absentee voting in 2020.
“[Republicans] noticed that we were voting early and absentee, and that it was working and they decided that they would try to catch up,” Wilker said.
Abortion again at forefront of Democratic platform
Access to reproductive care is another issue democratic leaders hope to change in Wisconsin.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade caused an 1849 state law to go into effect, banning access to abortion in Wisconsin.
However, in September, Planned Parenthood made the decision to restore abortion services at clinics in Madison, Milwaukee and Sheboygan after a ruling from Dane County Circuit Court Judge Diane Schlipper ruled the law’s language does not prohibit consensual medical abortions.
The ruling is expected to come before the liberal-leaning state Supreme Court for final review.
“[W]hen people have a choice between losing the right to make decisions over their own body, or protecting a choice between defending democracy or turning democracy away, they choose freedom and democracy every time,” Wikler told the Cardinal.
Dems see cautious optimism in redistricting lawsuit
Last on the panel’s plate was the topic of gerrymandering.
In 2011, the Republican majority in the Assembly and Senate redrew state voting maps to heavily favor GOP candidates. The map made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018, where justices ruled federal courts could not hear cases about partisan gerrymandering and left the decision to state courts.
Neubauer said Wisconsin has seen the “worst [gerrymandered maps] in the country.”
In 2021, Harvard University declared Wisconsin’s election maps “democracy desserts,” with district boundaries preventing voters from changing power in the legislature. The state’s level of political fairness resembles non-democracies Bahrain, Jordan and the Congo.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers won his election in 2022 with 51% of votes in the state. Yet, Republicans hold a 22-11 majority in the state Senate and a 64-35 majority in the state Assembly.
Wisconsin’s Supreme Court will hear a case challenging the Republican-leaning maps on Nov. 21.
Neubauer said she hopes the ruling of this case will result in new “fair” maps in Wisconsin, but voiced concern Assembly Republicans block the case.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, threatened to impeach Justice Protasiewicz if she agreed to hear the redistricting case after Protasiewicz called Wisconsin’s election maps “rigged” and “unfair” during her campaign.
Vos has since walked back his impeachment threat but plans to look into the possibility if Protasiewicz sides in favor of redistricting.