It looks like Wisconsin Republicans’ obsession with re-litigating the 2020 election might not hurt them in 2022.
Republicans prevailed in the most high-profile race in the state’s local elections on Tuesday, with conservative Waukesha County Judge Maria Lazar defeating appointed Judge Lori Kornblum by a double-digit margin for a seat on the state’s Court of Appeals.
Lazar touted the endorsement of former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman—who is leading the GOP’s so-called election “audit” and has repeatedly pushed false claims about the results—as well as from Jim Troupis, one of Trump’s 2020 election attorneys, and Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Bob Spindell, who was another one of Trump’s fake electors.
That race drew the most spending and focus from outside groups, with Lazar winning endorsements from the state’s GOP establishment. Kornblum was backed by Democrats and organized labor. Lazar’s win gives conservatives yet another judge in a state whose judicial system leans to the right.
The race didn’t focus on the 2020 election—Lazar attacked Kornblum as “a liberal, appointed by Gov. Tony Evers to legislate from the bench” in her ads, while her allies tied Kornblum to the Waukesha Christmas Parade mass murder. But it’s a sign that it won’t hurt Republicans too much to be tied to their party’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
She wasn’t the only conservative to have a good night in Wisconsin: Republican-aligned candidates swept three school board races in Waukesha running against “Critical Race Theory.”
The conservatives candidates who staked their campaigns on explicit rejections of President Biden’s victory in the state saw more mixed results, however.
Melinda Eck, a conservative activist who organized a local “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, won an open city council seat in Green Bay, a town that’s been at the center of GOP conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
But Kelly Ruh, another fake Trump elector, lost her reelection as alderwoman in the small town of De Pere on Tuesday by a double-digit margin. Ruh was subpoenaed by the House Jan. 6 Select Committee in January, which asked her about her “role and participation in the purported slate of electors.”
And Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly won reelection in his Republican-leaning town even though he quit the GOP in disgust after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot last year. He defeated an opponent who had promoted the GOP’s election “audit,” which has falsely pushed claims that there were major problems with the state’s 2020 election.
Reilly had predicted his leaving the GOP could destroy his political career.
“This will possibly be the cause of the end of my political career but I have to put this out because I am so upset. I am ashamed that I was a member of the Republican Party and I do not know how I can ever be a member again,” he posted to Facebook on Jan. 7, 2021, the day after the riot.
Wisconsin was the tipping-point state for Biden: His win there handed him the White House. And it’s expected to be incredibly competitive this fall too, with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers facing a tough reelection campaign and Democrats hoping to defeat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
One shouldn’t overread the results of low-turnout spring elections, and it was a bit of a mixed result. But Tuesday’s outcome isn’t a good sign for Democrats in arguably the most important swing state in the country.