What to Watch For Tonight

When election results come flowing in this evening there will be a lot to keep an eye on, even if the results seem foreordained. To put it in the simplest terms this is the abortion election. If Democrats are right, they’ll run the table. If they miscalculated, there will be some surprises.

Protasiewicz’s margin. I’d be floored if Dan Kelly won the race for Supreme Court. Janet Protasiewicz has made the race a referendum on abortion. She has all but promised that she will vote to overturn the restrictive old abortion law while Kelly has sent less overt signals that he’ll do the opposite. About 85% of Wisconsinites support abortion rights at least in the cases of rape and incest, which is not allowed under that 1849 law. Protasiewicz’s campaign is also printing money. So, for me the question is her margin of victory. If Kelly makes it close at all I’d credit some of that to the indictment of Donald Trump, which will take place on election day. And that would bode ill for Democrats going forward. Right now the Blues have a big advantage with abortion, but will the indictment light a fire under the Reds?

Janet Protasiewicz should defeat Dan Kelly. It’s a question of the margin and if the abortion issue has coattails.

Get tough on crime margin in Dane County. The ballot contains two questions related to the same constitutional amendment which would make it easier for judges to keep defendants with violent records behind bars while they await trial. This will pass, but I’m curious to see what the margin is in Dane County compared to the vote for Protasiewicz, who supports the amendment herself. If the margins for the amendment and Judge Janet are close it suggests that crime is an issue even in liberal Dane County. If there’s a big drop off in support for the amendment it would suggest another disconnect between Dane County liberals and the rest of the state.

Madison School Board. This is a clear choice between a different voice and more of the same. Badri Lankella is an engineer with two kids in the Madison schools. He wants to reward and encourage high achievement and he recognizes that our district is in competition with others. Blair Mosner Feltham has made the remarkable statement that, “schools are the product of white supremacy.” She’ll fit in well with the current board majority. Mosner Feltham has the support of the teachers union, other unions and both daily newspapers. If Lankella even comes close I’d say that indicates a real concern about the direction of our schools. If you’re reading this and you haven’t voted yet, please consider Lankella. Every vote counts and just making it closer would be a positive for Madison.

Milwaukee suburbs. There is a hotly contested special election for state Senate in the traditionally rock-ribbed Republican Milwaukee suburbs. But those areas have been trending blue and a Supreme Court race that’s all about abortion might pull even more voters toward Jodi Habush Sinykin, the Democrat. If she wins by any margin at all that is still more evidence that abortion is a winning issue for her party.

Green Bay mayor. Even the national media has taken notice. Eric Genrich is running on abortion, never mind that his office has nothing to do with it. In this ostensibly nonpartisan contest, Democratic incumbent Genrich goes up against Republican Chad Weininger. Green Bay is a contentious place. The two finished in a near dead heat in the primary, nine of the 12 council members have endorsed Weininger, but Green Bay went for Biden by eight points. All of which is to say this could be close, but I’d expect Genrich to win today again because of that Supreme Court race — and his effort to link himself to the central issue that contest. If Weininger, who is against abortion, pulls it out that’s another sign that abortion may not be as much of a winner for the Democrats as had been expected. Same goes for another contested race in Racine between incumbent Democrat Cory Mason and his Republican challenger Henry Perez, although it looks from here like Mason should win that rather handily.

Overall turnout. I’m told that the expected turnout in some Madison wards might approach 100%. That would be remarkable for a presidential election, much less a spring election. I’ll be curious to see how Dane County turnout stacks up against Republican strongholds. I’m guessing it’ll be higher.

Madison Mayor. Not much to see here. Incumbent Satya Rhodes-Conway got 60% in the primary and has not stumbled since. And, you guessed it, she’s taken every opportunity to point out how very pro-choice she is, regardless of the fact that mayors mostly get the streets plowed and the garbage picked up. She should win easily over challenger Gloria Reyes, who is clearly qualified and plenty pro-choice herself, but probably hasn’t made a sufficient case to fire the incumbent. Since the two had similar positions on the issues, I’m not sure what this result will tell us beyond the general homogeneity of politics in Madison.

Chicago mayor. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is the race that has captured the attention of the national media, but a close second is the Chicago mayor’s race. Mayor Lori Lightfoot went down in the primary and now the contest is a rather stark choice between Brandon Johnson, supported by the teachers union, against Paul Vallas, supported by the police union. If Vallas wins it’ll be a continuation of a trend of big, liberal cities turning away from the hard-left. Center-left moderates have won mayors races, district attorneys races and school board races from Seattle to New York.

Money, Money, Money. We won’t know the exact answer to this until the next round of campaign finance reports, but it’s a sure thing that the Democrats — in this “nonpartisan” election cycle — will have raised a ton of money. They’ve spent about $400,000 each for Habush Sinykin and Cory Mason. Those candidates have had an astounding financial advantage. That’s because Democrats have been able to raise national money off of the Supreme Court race and funnel it into other contests. Altogether liberal and conservative groups will have spent around $45 million on the Supreme Court race alone — blowing away the previous record for spending in any state’s court races by three times. The previous record was a measly $15 in Illinois.

My own center-left hopes are that Protasiewicz wins big and that the crime amendment tracks closely with her vote in Dane County. I hope that the Democrats pick up the state Senate seat in the Milwaukee ‘burbs and that Genrich and Mason win easily in their cities. It may be too much to hope for a Lankella victory for school board, but if he gets to even 40% I think that would indicate growing awareness of the issues of achievement, behavior and competition that he has raised. I’m pulling for Vallas down in Chicago. Finally, I’d like to see Dane County turnout exceed that of any other county, which is entirely possible.

If you add it up that’s five races in which I’m hoping for a liberal outcome and three where I’d prefer the more centrist or conservative result. The very definition of center-left, I’d say.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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