Wisconsin voters, including many in rural areas, on April 4 elected local jurist Janet Protasiewicz to the state’s Supreme Court. In one of the nation’s most closely-watched judicial elections, Judge Protasiewicz, a progressive, defeated conservative Dan Kelly, a former state Supreme Court justice. This will return Wisconsin’s high court to a liberal majority for the first time in 15 years.
The election will very likely be crucial for the protection of reproductive rights in Wisconsin – and can swing the court in other areas, including gerrymandered voting maps and election administration.
And as occurred last year in an August Kansas vote, and in several other usually red states in November elections, rural and small-town voters played important roles in protecting choice. Many Wisconsin counties voted for Donald Trump by healthy margins in both 2020 and 2016. But then this latest election again appears to have been influenced by the US Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. That radical move, eliminating a basic right for millions, is obviously a bridge much too far for even usually conservative voters.
For example, in 2020 Trump won 27 of Wisconsin’s 46 rural (nonmetropolitan) counties by more than 20 points. In this week’s judicial race, Republican Kelly won only 12 rural counties by such a landslide, according to a Daily Yonder analysis.
Rural voters swung 5 points toward the Democratic Party, compared to Biden’s 2020 performance. The result is that Democrat Protasiewicz did better with rural voters than she did with suburban voters in Wisconsin’s largest metropolitan areas, the Yonder reported.
Maybe this time the national media will notice something. The overturning of Roe v. Wade apparently continues to be a negative for Republicans and a positive for Democrats.
Joe Belden is a writer and consultant based in Washington, D.C.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of nonmetropolitan counties in Wisconsin. There are 46, not 42.