APPLETON - A former U.S. Senate candidate is hoping to use her resources to support pro-abortion-rights candidates in local races across the state, including three in northeast Wisconsin and one in Stevens Point.
State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski converted her U.S. Senate campaign into a hybrid political action committee called Women Win Wisconsin to endorse six Democratic candidates running in the state Legislature who she says will fight for "reproductive liberty." The PAC also aims to defeat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson as he seeks re-election Nov. 8.
Godlewski calls part of her campaign "Women Save the Veto" and touts it as an effort to prevent a Republican supermajority in the Wisconsin Legislature that would block Gov. Tony Evers, if reelected in November, from vetoing anti-abortion laws.
The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade put an 1849 state law back into effect that banned Wisconsin doctors from performing abortions, except in cases where the mother's life is in danger, leaving no exceptions for rape or incest. Since then, Wisconsin clinics have halted all abortions.
In post-Roe Wisconsin where abortion rights have become a focus in the midterm elections, Godlewski hopes to capitalize on surging voter registration.
"We got to do everything we can to make sure we are advocating for reproductive freedom not just at the federal level but the state level," Godlewski told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
Godlewski's PAC focuses on abortion rights
Women Win Wisconsin is converting Godlewski's Senate campaign committee into a two-part PAC.
The first part, "Women Against Ron," is aimed at defeating Johnson by showcasing his stance on abortion. In July, Johnson said he supports limited exceptions to abortion and has said he wants the decision to be left to the states. Johnson has also said he believes that life begins at conception. He faces Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat, in the November election.
Ben Voelkel, a senior adviser to Johnson, called Godlewski's PAC funding to target Johnson "sad, divisive politics."
"It's too bad that after losing her election, Sarah Godlewski can't find something to actually be for," he said.
The second part of Godlewski's PAC, "Women Save the Veto," is focused on endorsing six women running for the Legislature races across the state, including incumbent Rep. Lee Snodgrass, D-Appleton, state Senate candidate Kristin Alfheim of Appleton, Assembly candidate Lori Palmeri of Oshkosh and incumbent Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.
The PAC is also endorsing Luann Bird for the 84th Assembly District in the Milwaukee suburbs and Kelly Westlund, of Superior, for the 25th state Senate District.
Republicans already hold a strong majority in the Legislature, with 21 of the 33 state Senate seats and 61 of the 99 positions in the Assembly.
Wisconsin governors are granted the power to veto any legislation that comes to their desk, which Evers has continuously used to block bills aimed at reducing abortions in Wisconsin.
However, the Legislature may override a veto by a two-thirds supermajority vote, which is within grasp for Republicans in the midterms because a 2022 redistricting map gave the GOP an edge in the Legislature.
They would need to win only one extra seat in the state Senate and five more Republican seats in the Assembly to achieve this — the same number of seats Godlewski is endorsing.
"My seat could be the difference," Alfheim told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
While other PACs like Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin address abortion issues, Godlewski's is one of the only PACs in the state to focus on the issue of abortion rights.
Godlewski's PAC is endorsing far fewer candidates than more established anti-abortion PACs like Wisconsin Right to Life, which is currently backing 57 candidates in Wisconsin.
Women outnumber men in new voter registrations
Godlewski said that since the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision there has been a "surge" in women registering to vote in Wisconsin. One analysis from TargetSmart found since June 24, women have out-registered men by 15.6%.
As a first-time candidate for the state Legislature, Palmeri said the support of Godlewksi's organization has been a morale boost. The current mayor of Oshkosh said the organization promised to help with logistical work like helping fundraise and running phone banks for the six candidates.
Palmeri said that she has done dozens of rallies with incumbents like Snodgrass and Shankland and received support from other politicians. She's been happy to see the teamwork, considering what she believes is at stake in this election.
"We know what is so important here collectively," Palmeri said. "We are all committed to protecting the governor's veto."
Godlewski believes there is more energy among women to vote for candidates who would protect reproductive rights. She is hoping her support can convert that energy and make sure the people who are registered actually vote, and make selections in local races that can be decided by a few hundred votes.
Central, northeast Wisconsin candidates advocate for abortion rights
Alfheim, who is a member of the Appleton Common Council, is running for state Senate District 19 against Rep. Rachael Cabral-Guevara, R-Appleton.
Alfheim said she doesn't believe the decision to get an abortion should be in the hands of lawmakers and that it should be between a pregnant person and their doctor.
Wisconsin Right to Life is endorsing Cabral-Guevara in the state Senate race.
“During her time in office, Rep. Cabral-Guevara has been a compassionate pro-life advocate and championed legislation that would support women and their babies,” Wisconsin Right to Life legislative director Gracie Skogman told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. “We are confident she would stand by these pro-life principles if elected to the state Senate.”
Cabral-Guevara told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin in a candidate survey that she is "pro-life" but supports adding exemptions for rape and incest to Wisconsin's abortion ban.
Snodgrass has represented the 57th Assembly District since 2020 and is facing Republican challenger Andrew Fox in November.
Snodgrass' website says she believes abortion is healthcare and is in favor of removing Wisconsin's abortion ban.
"Because of the (Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization) decision, legislators like me are now responsible for voting on and making laws about what people should do with their bodies," she told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
Her opponent, Fox, said in a candidate questionnaire that he's against abortion except in the cases of rape, incest and if the life of the mother is in danger.
Palmeri also said she is committed to supporting abortion rights in the state, starting by repealing the 1849 abortion ban.
"(Abortion) should be safe, legal and private," Palmeri said.
Palermi's Republican opponent, Oshkosh businessman Donnie Herman, has not yet responded to interview requests from USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
Shankland is also calling for the state's abortion ban to be repealed, as well as expand birth control.
"We need people in the Legislature advocating for repealing (the 1849) law," she said.
Shankland's opponent, political newcomer Scott Soik, did not respond when asked for his views on Wisconsin's abortion ban.
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This article originally appeared on Appleton Post-Crescent: Wisconsin Treasurer Godlewski starts abortion rights, anti-Johnson PAC