The editors at CNN Opinion asked me to explain what caused former state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly to lose to Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz in the April election. As I explain in this op-ed for their website, two factors are primarily responsible for Kelly losing: the Trump effect and the abortion issue.
By Wisconsin standards, it was a blowout. It’s the first time liberals will have a majority on the state Supreme Court since 2008.
On Wednesday, former President Donald Trump offered his explanation for why Kelly lost.
“Daniel Kelly of Wisconsin just lost his Supreme Court Election,” Trump posted on Truth Social. “He bragged that he won’t seek Trump’s Endorsement, so I didn’t give it — which guaranteed his loss. How foolish is a man that doesn’t seek an Endorsement that would have won him the Election?”
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However, this was Kelly’s second loss since April 2020. Trump failed to mention that Kelly lost his seat on the court three years ago — with an endorsement from Trump. While Kelly may have tried a different tactic this time around, he has been irrevocably associated with Trump, having advised the Republican Party of Wisconsin on the 2020 election, including the decision to have fake Republican electors meet secretly in the state Capitol to falsely claim Wisconsin voted for Trump.
The effect of the abortion issue:
Following the Democratic Party playbook since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Protasiewicz hammered Kelly on the airwaves over his endorsements from the state’s pro-life organizations while telling voters that she personally supported a woman’s right to an abortion.
The Protasiewicz campaign strategy worked. Her victory continued an electoral trend in Wisconsin, with the continued erosion of support for Republican candidates in the suburban counties surrounding Milwaukee in the age of Trump.
If Republicans are going to reverse their fortunes in these suburban counties, they’re going to have to settle the abortion issue. According to the Marquette University Law School poll, the majority of independent voters remains consistently opposed to the Dobbs decision overturning Roe. Those independent voters, especially women, are now pulling the lever for the Democrats.
On the effect of former President Donald Trump:
The trend of Republicans losing suburban votes began before Roe v. Wade was overturned. As recently as 2012, the Republican margins of victory in presidential elections in the three counties to the north and west of Milwaukee County were 40.1% in Washington County, 34.5% in Waukesha County and 30.3% in Ozaukee County, according to Craig Gilbert in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. By 2020, those margins of victory had dropped to 38.1% in Washington County, 20.9% in Waukesha County and just 12% in Ozaukee County.
Those three counties, collectively known as the WOW counties, once provided enough votes for Republican statewide candidates to offset the Democrats’ advantage in Milwaukee County.
But since the appearance of Trump in 2016, the Republican advantage has been evaporating. Ozaukee County, Milwaukee County’s northern neighbor along the lakefront, is now almost evenly split with Kelly winning just 52% of the vote, down 11% from what the last successful conservative Supreme Court justice received in that county in 2019.
You can read the whole warning for the Republican Party of Wisconsin at the CNN website.