It’s primary debate season in Wisconsin.
WisPolitics.com is a co-sponsor of several televised primary debates affecting important Aug. 9 races: Democratic U.S. Senate (on NBC affiliates statewide), Republican governor (on NBC affiliates statewide), Democratic and Republican lieutenant governor (on Spectrum News) and the 3rd Congressional District in western Wisconsin (on La Crosse-area stations).
Debates are one way to see the candidates all at once, side by side. So if you’re tired of the endless stream of TV ads, tune into a debate or attend in person if you can.
Even though candidates are apt to resort to mini-campaign speeches, interesting unscripted campaign moments do occur.
Witness the July 17 debate in Milwaukee featuring the five top Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate. The winner will go on to face incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh.
This is one of the top Senate races in the country and will help determine whether Democrats still control the chamber.
The Democratic candidates, perhaps mindful of this, held off attacking each other and reserved most of the negative stuff toward Johnson.
But some tension showed.
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, touting his support for expanding the U.S. Supreme Court beyond the current nine members, pinned some of the blame for Donald Trump appointing the justices who overturned Roe v. Wade on Sarah Godlewski and others who failed to vote in 2016.
While working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Wisconsin, Godlewski acknowledged she didn’t vote even as she worked as director of women’s outreach in the state for the secretary of state’s campaign.\
“We didn’t turn out in 2016,” Nelson said. “Because we didn’t turn out in 2016, we gave three appointments to Donald Trump and now women, workers and the environment will be suffering for decades.”
The debate rules allowed 30 seconds of rebuttal to any candidate mentioned by a rival. Godlewski used her time to note she was the only woman on the stage.
“I don’t need to be lectured by any man on how important the 2016 election was,” said Godlewski, the current state treasurer.
Godlewski, meanwhile, questioned where her male Democratic rivals — Nelson, Mandela Barnes, Alex Lasry and Steven Olikara — were on reproductive rights before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 ruling that guaranteed a right to an abortion.
She noted during forums last fall others were silent on the issue.
“I was the only one talking about reproductive rights because for me, this is not an afterthought,” she said. “If Wisconsin wants to restore its women’s right to choose, they’ll send the woman who will get the job done and defeat Ron Johnson in 2022 this November.”
One moderator noted that Barnes has been endorsed by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, R-N.Y. Both have called for the U.S. government to use federal lands to provide abortions in states that ban them, and Sims asked the lieutenant governor if he supported the approach.
He noted his mother had an abortion before he was born after a complicated pregnancy put her health at risk. He said he wants to expand the Democratic majority, overhaul the filibuster, and codify abortion rights. In the meantime, Barnes indicated he was open to what Warren and Ocasio-Cortez had proposed and knocked Johnson for believing abortion should be outlawed in most cases.
“Telling people to just go to Illinois,” Barnes said. “I can’t think of a more out-of-touch position to have.”
Lasry, on leave from his job with the Milwaukee Bucks, noted his wife works for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
“A woman’s health care decision should be between her and her medical provider, not some Trump hand-picked Supreme Court justice or some politician in Washington or Madison,” he said.
Olikara, founder of the Millennial Action Project that sought to help young leaders bridge partisan divides, knocked the flood of fundraising appeals he received after the ruling came down.
“The political-industrial complex is much more interested in your dollars than in your human rights,” he said.
Polls show a lot of likely Democtric voters are still undecided. If they watch the debate, they might come to a decision.
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