Democrats hoping for better odds in 1st District congressional race

Wisconsin Democrats hope Congress’s new map of the state and the pending Supreme Court decision to strike down abortion rights will reset the political dynamics in the 1st Congressional District, where voters last elected a Democrat three decades ago.

The state’s Congress map, confirmed in April, redraws the 1st The district boundaries include the town of Beloit and part of the town of Whitewater, both of which had been severed from the district in 2001. Their restoration added more historically Democratic voters to the district rolls.

With this reconfiguration, the map more closely resembles district boundaries in the 1990s and before, when Democrats previously held the seat. That change alone boosted Democrats’ hopes for the November election.

State Representative Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit)

“I am thrilled that we are fortunate to have a fairer and more competitive 1st Congressional District,” said State Rep. Mark Spreitzer, a Democrat from Beloit.

Then came the leak Monday night of a draft opinion from the United States Supreme Court reversing the 1973 High Court decision in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion nationwide.

1st District Republican Congressman Bryan Steil responded the next day on Twitter from his official report to Congress: “Today’s news reminds us of the importance of protecting the sanctity of life. As we await the Court’s final opinion, I stand proudly in favor of life.

On Wednesday, Steil’s likely Democratic challenger, Ann Roe, called a press conference where she made a clear distinction between her pro-choice stance and Steil’s opposition to abortion rights. (Despite her last name, she is not related to the person referred to only by the pseudonym “Jane Roe” in the 1973 case and title.)

“We need to trust women to make the best decisions for themselves, their families and their health,” Roe said, speaking at a park in Janesville, where she lives. “Politicians are wrong to tell women how to make their own medical decisions. When women are not given the freedom to control their own lives, they are deprived of their future.

“It’s a pivotal week” in the 2022 campaign, Spreitzer said in an interview Thursday. “I can’t predict how it might change the results in November. But I certainly think it changes how some people are going to pay attention to the election and what issues the candidates are going to talk about.

The Battle of the Cards

Most Competitive 1st The district boundaries were the result of new legislative maps that Governor Tony Evers produced after vetoing maps approved by Republican majorities in the state legislature. Initially, the Wisconsin Supreme Court approved the three Evers cards in a 4-3 vote. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, rejected the Assembly and Senate maps, sending them back to state court, where justices voted 4-3 for the GOP versions.

But the federal judges let the Evers Congress card stand.

“I told Ann last summer that she was making the right decision to get into the race earlyand hopefully we got a fairer map, and that’s exactly what happened,” says Spreitzer, who endorsed Roe.

Cathy Meyers, who applied unsuccessfully for the 1st The district’s 2018 Democratic nomination also endorsed Roe. “With the changes in the district, it’s a much more competitive race,” says Meyers. “Nobody gets anything, but we’re going to work really hard for it.”

According to the most optimistic reading for Democrats, the GOP had a five-point advantage in the district as it was drawn from 2011 through this year. Republicans Steil and his predecessor, Paul Ryan, have consistently beaten the Challengers by 12 points or better over those years.

By comparison, political bettors only give Republicans a two-point advantage in the redrawn district. It “makes this race a virtual draw,” Roe argues. “And that’s good for voters.”

Roe began to incorporate his connections to Beloit and Whitewater into his campaign message. Her first job after moving to Wisconsin with her family two decades ago was in Beloit, as executive director of the local symphony orchestra. She then taught marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The addition of Beloit increases diversity in the district, while both towns attract pools of college-age voters, says Yuri Rushkin, a Rock County council member who represents downtown Beloit. “These are things that make the district much more competitive for Democrats going forward.”

Cancellation of the right to abortion

Roe supporters believe last week’s leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion has the potential to further rewrite the odds.

The final opinion has not been rendered; court watchers speculated that it would not be published until June, and that by then it is likely to be rewritten. But abortion rights advocates and opponents expect its central conclusion to remain – eliminating any federal guarantees for abortion rights, effectively banning it in half of the states.

“I think there are a lot of women who are just shocked at the possibility at this point,” Tod Ohnstad, a Democratic state representative in Kenosha, told 1st Eastern boundary of the district. “I think it certainly has the potential to move the needle.”

Roe says her own reaction to the draft notice was echoed by people who contacted her after the document was published in Politico late Monday, May 2. The proposed ruling left her with an “overall feeling of betrayal,” she says, because three of the four justices whose names were on the draft were “new Supreme Court justices [who, in confirmation hearings] recognized the law, affirmed the law, and then seemed ready to overthrow it.

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Steil is one of 207 Republicans in Congress, including four from Wisconsin, who put their names on a January 2020 friend-of-court brief in a case involving a Louisiana law imposing a new restriction on healthcare providers. abortion. (The court ultimately overturned the restriction.)

U.S. Representative Bryan Steil
U.S. Representative Bryan Steil (R-Janesville)

The brief that Steil and his colleagues signed called the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion a “radically unstable precedent” and urged the court to reconsider and “if necessary” reverse it.

During his press conference, Roe highlighted this dossier. “It is an extremist belief and does not represent the views of the people it represents,” she said. “In fact, a clear majority of Wisconsin residents support keeping Roe v. Wade.”

Roe also countered Steil’s support for overriding abortion rights with his vote against the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in 2021, which had no Republican support. The bill, she pointed out, included provisions that temporarily expanded the federal child tax credit, provided temporary enhanced subsidies that made health insurance more affordable under the Affordable Care Act and offered additional relief to schools.

“He always rejected funds that would bring much-needed benefits to this district,” Roe said.

Will 2022 be different?

Since 2008, the 1st The congressional district race has always pitted a pro-choice Democrat against an anti-abortion Republican. While that made a difference for voters, it was not enough to tip the race in favor of the Democrats.

Ann Roe and her followers think 2022 can be different. In those previous elections, “you still had the protection of Roe v. Wade,” Meyers says. With the leaked ruling reversing that ruling, “it’s no longer moot.”

Roe says Steil’s outspoken support for overturning abortion rights, the existence of a draft advisory to do just that, and trends such as Texas’ tough new law banning abortion after six weeks created a different atmosphere that “energizes” voters.

UW-Whitewater political scientist Louis Fucilla is skeptical. While he did not follow the 1st District racing closely this year, he doubts the new map will be enough to change things.

“Incumbents running for reelection in the House win at incredibly high rates, and the president’s party is typically at a disadvantage in midterm elections,” Fucilla said via email. “That would suggest that the fundamentals of the race in the district have not changed substantially. I believe that is the case even with the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft decision in Roe on Monday.”

Campaign financial records compiled by OpenSecrets.org show Steil, who has raised more than $2 million so far, has a nearly 8-to-1 financial advantage over Roe, who has raised just under $264,000.

Roe says she’s not discouraged by the difference. “Support comes in all forms. And we are thrilled,” she said. “I’m very comfortable in what could be perceived as an underdog position.”

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