It is now official: Conservative Judge Brian Hagedorn has defeated liberal Judge Lisa Neubauer (pictured) in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election. Neubauer conceded on Wednesday in a very close race, where Hagedorn won by 6,000 votes despite being the underdog. This result is a significant reversal from 2018 when the conservative Judge Michael Screnock lost by 12% to the liberal (now Justice) Rebecca Dallet. More importantly, this election was a flip from blue to red. The state Supreme Court result not only has significant consequences for policy in Wisconsin, but it is an important signifier heading into 2020.
How did conservatives swing races by 12.5% in just over a year? It starts with executing the basics. In some ways it was similar to the University of Virginia winning the national championship a year after being the first No. 1 seed to lose in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. They focused on doing the fundamentals and got a huge change in outcome in one short year.
Judge Hagedorn executed his campaign plan, delivered his message to the voters and withstood withering attacks from the left and the media. The left attacked him for starting a Christian school and for calling Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization.” Planned Parenthood went on to spend over $120,000 to try to defeat him. As a result, business groups, afraid of backlash, decided to stay out of this race, clearly intimidated by the most radical elements of the political left. Private polling showed Hagedorn down by nearly double digits and the political experts predicted a big loss for him. At one point the groups on the left were outspending those on the right by a 14-to-1 margin, as Eric Holder and liberals eyed a flip of the conservative leaning court.
But these attacks backfired and motivated the conservative base. They saw that the attacks on Hagedorn’s school were in effect imposing an unconstitutional religious test: that you cannot be a Christian and a judge. These groups were functionally persecuting Hegedorn for his religious beliefs. And whether voters held those same beliefs or not, they didn’t fall for the bigoted attacks. When voters heard about this, they were upset and motivated to take action. The conservative grassroots went out and knocked on doors, texted friends and family members, and delivered more votes for Hagedorn.
Another key aspect was that Judge Neubauer tried to position herself as a moderate and independent judge, despite being very connected to the Democratic Party and Planned Parenthood. When voters were informed of her connections to socialist policies and infanticide-supporting groups, it helped Hagedorn. Our organization, American Majority Action, saw this as we went door to door and spoke to voters in real time. We focused on voters in seven counties across the state. Our survey results showed a 10+% shift to Hagedorn over the final two weeks as more voters were informed of Neubauer’s radical ties. In places where we knocked on doors, we saw votes shift by 15% or more from their 2018 totals. In Oostburg, where we spoke with hundreds of voters, we saw Hagedorn receive 361 more votes than Screnock in 2018. This happened in communities all across the state. Face-to-face communication is the best way to win over voters in any election, and given the unfair attacks by liberals in this case, it proved particularly effective.
Looking ahead to 2020, these same methods can be deployed and help Trump win reelection. We must inform the voters of the radical policies the Democrats are proposing and talk face-to-face with voters about what is at stake. The left is being more transparent, going beyond simple support for abortion and instead promoting infanticide while simultaneously attacking religious freedom, labeling traditional understanding of faith as bigotry. Standing up for babies (both born and unborn) and religious freedom can be winning issues for the right. We must build off of wins like Wisconsin and mobilize voters on the right issues in order to win in 2020 and beyond.
Matt Batzel is the Wisconsin-based national executive director of American Majority Action, a grassroots conservative organization.