“Women Are Fed Up”: Democrats See Ron Johnson’s Abortion Record as Their Path to Victory

senator Ron Johnson‘s political shenanigans have ranged from the absurd (like when he said it “may be true” that COVID vaccines cause AIDS only to later deny ever believing that) to the potentially illegal (coordinating an effort to serve up fake Donald Trump–supporting electors to Vice President Mike Penceallegedly in an effort to overturn Joe Biden‘s victory in 2020). Democrats are amplifying these issues, but the strategy to defeat the incumbent Wisconsin senator also has another clear target: his record ele on women. The Supreme Court decision overruling the landmark Roe v. wade Friday—and Wisconsin’s 173-year-old state law banning abortions now in effect—has the potential to make this strategy more politically potent than ever, making Johnson a clear test case in Democrats’ promise to make women’s rights a winning issue at the ballot box.

Johnson is an easy target in that respect. The two-term senator said he didn’t see the repeal of Roe v. wade “as a huge threat to women’s health” and that things would be “fine.” He said anyone who does not like Wisconsin’s abortion laws “can move,” has advocated for a federal abortion ban after 20 weeks—despite arguing that the matter was a state’s issue—and supported a Mississippi law to ban abortions after 15 weeks. The Wisconsin Democratic Party regularly blasts out fact sheets highlighting Johnson’s work on “strip reproductive rights.” The state’s Democratic candidates for Senate have all targeted Johnson’s record on women and reproductive rights across various mediums, including paid campaign TV ads (Godlewski cut an ad outside the Supreme Court in Washington), social media postsand official statements.

It’s a strategy seemingly based on lessons learned from the last three election cycles. In 2018 Democrats energized their base to deliver Tony Evers the governorship, despite Trump winning the state two years prior; in 2020, Biden managed to flip the state from red to blue by siphoning off key votes in Milwaukee suburbs—Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington counties notable among them—and chipping away at historically landslide margins in traditional Republican strongholds like the Mequon, Elm Grove , and Brookfield suburbs. Alex Lasry, a Milwaukee Bucks executive running in the Democratic Senate primary, stressed in a phone call that to win the state, Democrats need to replicate the victories of Barack Obama, senator Tammy Baldwin, Evers, and Joe Biden by paying attention to “places that Democrats neglect and Republicans take for granted.”

Republicans concede this could work; one GOP strategist who has run numerous campaigns in Wisconsin explained that Johnson can’t win by plucking from the MAGA playbook alone. “The people who are going to walk through walls to vote so that they can vote for Ron Johnson, they’re gonna show up anyway. But that isn’t gonna be enough to get him elected,” the strategist said. “They either have to figure out a way to make him passable to those people who would probably vote for Ron Johnson, but might not.”

Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes‘s campaign for Senate said it received more individual donations on Friday than any other single day in the campaign, including its launch and the day Johnson announced his reelection campaign. Lasry’s campaign said it has experienced a notable uptick in online campaign donations. And Friday through Sunday, Sarah Godlewski, the only woman candidate in the Democratic primary for the Senate seat, had her best-performing fundraising days since the start of her campaign—each day outstripping the previous. “The ruling that came out Friday was a very dramatic moment in the fact that now people in Wisconsin have fewer rights than they did even last week,” Godlewski told Vanity Fair. “I think that’s gonna be a centerpiece because we know Ron Johnson; this is exactly what he wanted.”

Barnes and Lasry echoed this sentiment. “People are frustrated. Women are incredibly frustrated—as they should be—seeing their rights being taken away in real time. Things that were fought and won 50 years ago—to have to go through those same exact fights, people are fired up, especially maybe those who may not have thought they were political before, understanding just how deeply involved politics is in folks’ daily lives ,” Barnes said.

“We see what happens when Republicans take over, they continue to make sure they take away rights for women,” Lasry said.

Wisconsin Democrats feel they have a credible case to make against Johnson when it comes to his record on women. In addition to his position on her Roe, Johnson has suggested that single mothers choose to have more children in order to receive greater welfare assistance. He also suggested that assisting single mothers with government aid turned them into “dependents” and that mothers on welfare assistance should work in childcare centers as an alternative solution. “He is really a true believer when it comes to the oppression of women and disrespecting women. He’s been doing it for a long time here in his political career,” Melissa Baldauff, a Democratic strategist based in Wisconsin, told me. (Johnson’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)

Robyn Vining, a Democratic member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, relied on women voters in 2018, when she flipped a longtime red seat previously held by the likes of former Republican governor Scott Walker in 2018 and held on to it in 2020. “We had women who had never knocked doors before, out knocking doors…. We had women writing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of postcards,” Vining said. “It really matters. Women are fed up. They’re sick and tired of being targeted, of being unrepresented.”

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