By Selena Zito
Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus tweeted seemingly out of nowhere last week about the Wisconsin State Supreme Court race coming up next month. In her breezy post, she listed fair maps, abortion rights, and control of Congress as the key reasons to get involved. For added measure, she embedded a cheerful video of herself in the tweet encouraging people to get involved, with the promise that she would “lift them up” on social media if they did so.
She followed that by retweeting Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler’s dire warning about the race:
“RED ALERT: A MAGA PAC just reserved $3.2 million in TV ads for the April 4 Wisconsin Supreme Court race. For the next two weeks, GOP groups are outspending Dem groups on TV. This could spell disaster for 2024. Read on, retweet, and help fight back.”
So why is Hollywood interested in this? Simply put, the Democratic Party is the party of Hollywood, and Democrats know this is the biggest race of 2023. It matters more than anything else in the same way the race for control of the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court mattered in 2015. Democrats understood the stakes and invested heavily, whereas Republicans fell asleep at the wheel.
In November 2015, Pennsylvania voters—with a lot of Republicans sitting at home, not paying attention, and a lot of Democrats showing up—chose three judges who ensured that Democrats would have the upper hand in the state once again. Kevin Dougherty, Christine Donohue, and David Wecht, all Democrats, were elected on the same day.
It was a win that changed everything in Pennsylvania. The newly activist court would go on to rip up and redraw the congressional districts to favor Democrats, years after they’d been drawn and weeks before petitions were due. They would also change voting rules during the pandemic as to how mail-in votes were accepted—a decision that made many conservative voters believe the system was rigged to favor Democrats in 2020.
That decision also cost Republicans their majority in the state House when a committee carved numerous state House districts to blatantly favor Democrats.
Ask Republicans now how they feel about not investing in Pennsylvania in 2015, and they will candidly admit they blew it. That decision not to invest outside money for ads and staffers caused an activist Democrat-controlled court to run amok.
So, are Republicans about to blow it again now?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s tweet said it all—the Wisconsin Supreme Court race’s importance has risen to the level that Democrats have their entire ecosystem paying attention to it. The question is, will the Republican ecosystem pay attention or shrug it off in the same way that they did with Pennsylvania in 2015?
To date, Democrats have spent and reserved a total of $7.6 million in advertising; Republicans have spent and reserved a total of $5 million. Reports from earlier this year show the Wisconsin Democratic Party had raised $3.5 million by Feb. 6, compared to the Republican Party’s mere $56,061. Disclosures also show that Wisconsin Democrats have been raising big dollars from New York and California, both for last year’s Senate and gubernatorial races and for this high-stakes race.
Last month Wisconsin held its primary election for the Supreme Court race that can only be seen as a victory for state progressives—they not only earned over 50 percent of the vote in the non-partisan primary, but the conservative they are now going to face next month also lost significantly in a 2020 court election.
In just over two weeks, the two candidates—progressive Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz and Daniel Kelly, a conservative former State Supreme Court justice—will face off in a race that will, on the face of it, be about abortion, but in reality is a race to tip the closest state in the country toward the Democrats.
How? The last time the Supreme Court dealt with redistricting, it punted back to state supreme courts. This is why North Carolina is now redrawing its map after Republicans took control of its Supreme Court. Wisconsin will redraw its map, too, if Democrats do the same.
As of today, Republicans in Washington, D.C., hold a four-seat majority in the U.S. House. Democrats could easily add two or more seats to their total just by remapping Wisconsin.
Republicans have a lot to make up for in three short weeks in terms of fundraising and campaigning. The question is not whether they can but whether they will bother. They missed the biggest race in 2015 because it wasn’t sexy enough, and it cost them down the road.
As the saying goes, elections have consequences. Democrats get that with this race. Time will tell whether Republicans do.