Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week.
There’s no need to sugarcoat it. The Supreme Court election result last week will have terrible consequences that are generational in scale. It has been 15 years since the Wisconsin Supreme Court had a leftist majority, and the leftists of today are far, far more radical than those of the past. We knew that this election was important, which is why it became the most expensive judicial campaign ever waged in the history of our nation. While the consequences will surely be the subject of future columns, we should first understand the past.
Although Supreme Court races are officially nonpartisan, they are really completely partisan. The increasing polarization of the two major parties has made the battleground for judicial races a bloody mess of ideological carnage instead of the staid legal philosophical debates of the past. Furthermore, the more leftist forces in our nation have put a concerted effort into electing radicals in judicial and prosecutor races in the last few years as a means to advance their ideology through the judicial branch when they fail in the legislative branch. Against this backdrop, Wisconsin’s Democrats were vocal and unapologetic about supporting Janet Protasiewicz. On the other side, the state Republicans were vocal and unapologetic about supporting Daniel Kelly. There was the faintest whisper to acknowledge the official nonpartisan nature of the race, but it was drowned out by the shouts of partisanship. As campaigners, Protasiewicz ran a campaign appealing to the political issues that strike an emotional chord with leftist voters. She continually implied, and sometimes outright stated, that she would be the deciding vote on issues like abortion, Act 10, political redistricting, and the like. Lost was any indication that she would respect the separation of powers and the role of the court. That was purposeful and it worked. Emotional political issues drive enthusiasm and turnout far more than a dry discussion of constitutional niceties. I wish that it were not so, but it is.
Daniel Kelly, on the other hand, ran a campaign that would have worked in the previous decade. It focused on a dry discussion of constitutional niceties and the appropriate role of a justice of the Supreme Court. While correct, it left his supporters in a rear-guard action trying to generate excitement with cries of what will be lost with an activist leftist court.
Beyond the candidates and their individual campaign strategies, the respective political parties waged entirely different battles. Truly, hats off to Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. He is an organizational, messaging, and fundraising powerhouse. He has a knack for nationalizing state races to attract national money and for maintaining intramural discipline during primaries.
The Democrats also have an electoral structural advantage in that their voters are more concentrated. This makes it easier to concentrate resources to drive turnout. For example, the turnout in Dane County in recent years — a county whose voters vote 80% or more for leftists — has been phenomenal. Only 36% of Protasiewicz’s vote total came from Dane and Milwaukee Counties. By contrast, the top two counties for Kelly were just 19.3% of his vote total.
The Democrats have also been tremendous at turning out their key voting groups like college students. For example, the dorms at the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse are in two wards. Turnout was over 54% in those wards last week compared to less than 20% in the previous spring election.
The Democrats have also taken full advantage of campaign finance and election laws. They funneled over $10 million to Protasiewicz’s campaign through the Democratic Party while Kelly eschewed any Republican Party money. The Democrats push hard for mail-in voting, early voting, ballot harvesting, and any other means to get people to vote who otherwise would not. Meanwhile, Republicans bicker over the appropriateness of these means and continue to lose elections.
Anecdotally, I also saw a marked difference in how each side was reaching out to voters. I received at least five texts from leftists for every one from righties urging me to vote or pushing an issue. Online, the ads were 10 to one in favor of leftists. Meanwhile, I received several mailers from righty groups and none from leftists. Democrats are putting their resources into reaching voters where they are while Republicans are spending their money and time on the campaign tactics of 2004.
Republicans have lost 14 of the last 17 statewide elections. On the issues, Wisconsin remains very evenly divided as evidenced by statewide referendum results, national election results, and general polling. But Republicans are getting blown out in statewide elections because of antiquated campaign strategies, bad candidates, intraparty squabbling, and terrible leadership. Wisconsin will continue to trend toward Illinois until the Republicans figure out how to match the Democrats’ campaigning prowess.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Janet occasionally rule against her base.
Janet will rule the way her paymasters tell her to.