By Gauri Patel
Following the surprise victory of the Democrats in the 2022 midterms, the Democratic party has seen boosts of momentum after recent victories in the Chicago and Wisconsin elections.
In the April 4 mayoral elections in Chicago, Cook County Commissioner, Brandon Johnson, a progressive, narrowly defeated former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, a moderate, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. As of April 17, Johnson had 52.2% of the vote, or roughly 27,000 more votes than his opponent, with 99% of the votes in, according to Politico.
Approaching the 55th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Johnson echoed Dr. King at the biggest rally of the Chicago mayor’s race so far, calling the election an opportunity to “take the progressive movement around the world,” according to CNN.
Johnson’s victory demonstrates a prevalence of voters’ liberal views on issues such as abortion, education and, in particular, crime. Chicago grapples with high rates of violent crime and has seen an increase during the past five years by nearly 20%, according to an official report by the Chicago Police Department.
Although both Johnson and Valla agree the Chicago Police Department needs reform, they have sharply differing views on the role of the police. Johnson, who is supported by other progressive politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, argues that more funding for the police force and incarceration are not the answer to safer streets. Instead, there should be more investment into mental health care, schools and affordable housing, according to Newsweek. Johnson also says social workers or EMTs should be used to answer certain 911 calls rather than police officers.
Vallas, on the other hand, supports a return to community policing, which involves officers having consistent beats in neighborhoods in order to build trust between the police and residents, according to ABC 7. Johnson, however, worries community policing can mean the targeting of primarily Black and brown Chicago neighborhoods.
Other politicians have also won by making direct appeals to the left, notably, Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), a populist from Pennsylvania, and Raphael Warnock (D-GA), a center-left Democrat in Georgia, according to The Hill.
In Wisconsin, Janet Protasiewicz defeated conservative Dan Kelly in the most expensive state judicial race in U.S. history, giving liberals the majority in the Wisconsin Supreme Court for the first time in fifteen years, according to NPR.
Protasiewicz made abortion a central aspect of her campaign, saying she supports abortion rights but stopping short of saying how she would rule on a lawsuit challenging the current Wisconsin's 174-year-old abortion ban, according to CBS. Protasiewicz’s victory is expected to have a significant impact on abortion rights in Wisconsin, which is being challenged in court by Democratic state leaders and is expected to reach the state Supreme Court.
Kelly advocated to uphold the abortion ban after doing legal work for an organization, Wisconsin Right to Life. He was endorsed by the state's top three anti-abortion groups, while Protasiewicz was supported by Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights advocate groups, according to CBS.
The results in Chicago and Wisconsin are an affirmation of how voters "turn out and are responsive to" the Democratic party’s messaging on key issues, like crime and abortion, according to Colin Seeberger, a senior advisor at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. This could have implications for the 2024 presidential race, especially after news broke about former President Donald Trump’s historic indictment.
The victories in the Midwest elections came shortly before the announcement that Trump turned himself over to authorities after he was charged for his involvement in a hush money case. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been investigating Trump over his alleged role in a hush money payment scheme and cover-up involving adult film star Stormy Daniels that dates to the 2016 presidential election, according to CNN. He has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records.
Trump is also seeking to delay an upcoming civil trial for the alleged rape of writer E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s after it was found that a major contributor to Democrats helped finance Carroll for the litigation against Trump. According to AP News, the request to delay the trial set for April 25 by one month has been denied by a federal judge, but Trump’s lawyers will now be allowed to question Carroll for up to one hour to gather more evidence about who is paying the accuser's lawyers.
Although the indictment does not legally disqualify Trump from running for president in the 2024 elections, it is expected that it will decrease his popularity among voters. According to Axios, the White House hopes voters will ultimately back Biden's original return-to-normalcy campaign, referring to his promises during the last election to unify and restore American politics, should he face Trump in a historic rematch.