MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin's Democratic Gov. Tony Evers hopes to translate anger over the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade into votes this fall as he vows to fight a 173-year-old state abortion ban, including offering clemency to any doctor convicted and not appointing prosecutors who would enforce the prohibition.
Evers, who won election in the battleground state four years ago by just over 1 percentage point, told The Associated Press ahead of his appearance Saturday at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention that abortion will energize key independent voters to support him and other Democrats.
“Any time you take half the people in Wisconsin and make them second class citizens, I have to believe there’s going to be a reaction to that,” Evers said.
At a rally Saturday before the convention, Evers said: “I have seven granddaughters who are girls or young women. Yesterday they were made second-class citizens, and that’s b--------.”
Wisconsin's governor's race is expected to be one of the hardest fought in the country this year. It's a priority for Democrats given the importance of the swing state in the 2024 presidential election. Evers is also the only thing standing in the way of the Republican-controlled Legislature. In his first term, he issued more vetoes than any other governor in modern history.
Democrats running to take on Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson will also speak Sunday at the convention in La Crosse. Five Republicans are running for a chance to take on Evers. Wisconsin's primary is Aug. 9.
About 1,000 people attended the convention, which kicked off Saturday night.
Evers told the AP that he feels confident abortion will be a winning issue for his party because polls have consistently shown about 60% of Wisconsin residents support it being legal in most or all cases.
“You can’t ignore the fact that we now have politicians making decisions for women and their health care,” Evers said. “So we’ll be talking about that a lot.”
Evers vowed to do whatever he can to evade the state's abortion ban that was passed in 1849 but hasn't been in effect since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. That includes supporting lawsuits to overturn it, not appointing district attorneys who would enforce it and offering clemency for doctors convicted under it.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who is also up for reelection in November, reiterated at the convention Saturday that he will not investigate or prosecute anyone under what he called Wisconsin's “backwards, 19th century abortion ban.”
Most prosecutions would come from county district attorneys, but abortion providers stopped scheduling abortions after Friday's Supreme Court ruling.
Evers, in his convention speech, referenced the Legislature’s refusal this week t o overturn the state ban on abortion which he said contains a “narrow and confusing exception for the life of a mother.”
“I don’t think that a law that was written before the Civil War, or before women secured the right to vote, should be used to dictate these intimate decisions on reproductive health, period,” Evers said to applause.
Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Paul Farrow said Evers' position on abortion was appealing only to "his activist base and going against the will of the people.” He downplayed the significance of the court's ruling on the election.
“All they really did yesterday was, 50 years ago an activist bench made a decision that wasn't constitutional and put that into play, so they're correcting that,” Farrow said. “Is it causing any change to the political landscape? There is a standard that people have. Republicans know that we’re pro-life.”
In addition to abortion, Evers said his reelection campaign and message to Democrats will focus on successes from his first term, including using federal money to fix roads and support small businesses. Evers said he will also emphasize what's at stake if Republicans win, “including voter suppression and voting rights.”
Evers is a supporter of Wisconsin's bipartisan commission that oversees elections, but all of his Republican opponents want to do away with it. Evers also vetoed a series of bills that would make it more difficult to vote absentee in the state.
President Joe Biden carried Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes, an outcome that some Republicans have refused to accept even though it has withstood two recounts, multiple lawsuits, an independent audit and even a review by a conservative group.
Republicans hope to harness unhappiness about gas prices, inflation and crime to knock off Evers.
No governor who was the same party as the sitting president has won election in Wisconsin since 1990. A Marquette University Law School poll this week showed Evers slightly ahead of his Republican challengers, while Johnson was about even with each Democrat running against him.