Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has officially launched his campaign for reelection in 2022.
The Democrat kicked off his campaign during an event Saturday at Warner Park. The announcement comes as no surprise since Kaul has been putting together a campaign team and raising money for several months.
“It is my honor today to announce to you all that I am running for reelection as attorney general of Wisconsin,” Kaul told a small crowd of family, friends, supporters and local government officials, including Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett.
Two Republican candidates, UW-Madison law professor Ryan Owens and Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, have announced they will challenge Kaul. Toney and Owens will face off in a primary in August 2022.
Kaul shared on Twitter a photo from the kickoff event that shows him with about 50 supporters under a pavilion at Warner Park, some attendees sitting at picnic tables while others grabbed food. The Wisconsin State Journal and other media outlets were not invited, but Kaul’s team provided a recording of a portion of the event.
Kaul said he’s proud of his record of protecting the public, the environment and people’s rights. Since he took office in 2019, Kaul said, he finished eliminating a backlog in untested rape kits after former Attorney General Brad Schimel started the the process, put serial rapists behind bars, went after prescription drug companies and drug traffickers to address the opioid crisis, and enforced laws that protect Wisconsin’s environment and water.
He also pointed to his efforts to defend the integrity of Wisconsin’s election when former President Donald Trump and some Republicans tried to delegitimize President Joe Biden’s win.
“As your attorney general I’m going to keep standing up for our democracy,” Kaul said.
Going forward, he said he will fight to pass “commonsense gun safety measures” in the state, such as universal background checks, take steps to make schools safer and provide more support programs to those struggling with addiction.
“What I promise you is that we are going to work hard between now and election day to win this race, and with the support of everybody here, I am confident that we are going to have a great chance to win reelection in 2022,” Kaul said. “Let’s fight hard.”
GOP strategist Brandon Scholz said the smaller, “low-key” announcement is likely part of Kaul’s larger strategy, but the choice also may have been a “lost opportunity” for Kaul to showcase more of his campaign.
“It’s hard to get a feel for the campaign if there really wasn’t much there,” Scholz said.
Democratic strategist Melissa Baldauff, a former top aide to Gov. Tony Evers, said she thinks the more intimate event shows Kaul is more focused on serving Wisconsinites as attorney general than on organizing big campaign events.
“It’s not surprising that he’s not doing something necessarily kind of big and splashy and attention-seeking because he’s really just focused on doing the work and getting things done,” Baldauff said. “And I think he’s got a lot to show for that approach.”
Given Wisconsin’s position as a battleground state that has become increasingly purple over the years, Scholz said he expects the attorney general election to be “a close, competitive race.” He said it will likely be a one- to two-point spread between Kaul and whichever conservative challenger wins the primary.
“This race is not going to be easy,” Kaul acknowledged during Saturday’s event.
Scholz said Toney and Owens are also both quality candidates that he could see Republicans getting excited about.
“It certainly could be a race that gets people enthused,” he said.
The next test for all the candidates, including Kaul, is whether they’ll raise enough money to put together a strong campaign, Scholz said. He said even candidates who look strong on paper could fall short if they don’t raise enough money.
The first window into how much money Kaul, Toney and Owens have raised in 2021 will come Thursday with the campaign finance filing deadline.
Both challengers have shot criticisms at Kaul, including for his priorities during the pandemic and last summer’s riots and protests against police brutality after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Owens told the State Journal in April that Kaul didn’t do enough to back police. He said Kaul should have worked more closely with law enforcement and more publicly denounced the rioting. Owens also said Kaul should have done more to get students back to school during the pandemic.
“Josh Kaul’s polices and poor leadership have made us less safe and less free,” Owens said Sunday. “Violent crime is increasing. Disrespect for law enforcement has become normalized. Our freedoms abandoned. It’s time for new leadership.”
Toney has said Kaul is more focused on liberal interests than those of the general public, a criticism Kaul disputed in his campaign announcement.
“We need to continue to have an AG who will fight for all Wisconsinites, rather than one who caters to special interests,” Kaul said Saturday.
Kaul was elected attorney general in 2018, unseating Schimel, a Republican. Kaul was sworn in Jan. 7, 2019.
Looking back a decade later, 10 stories about Act 10
The most seismic political story of the last decade in Wisconsin began on Feb. 7, 2011, when Republican Gov. Scott Walker informed a gathering of cabinet members of plans to unilaterally roll back the power of public sector unions in the state. He "dropped the bomb," as Walker would describe it afterward, four days later.
The audacious proposal, to be known forever after as Act 10, required public employees to pay more for pension and health insurance benefits, but also banned most subjects of collective bargaining and placed obstacles to maintaining union membership.
The proposal laid bare the state's deep, at times intensely personal, political divisions as tens of thousands of protesters descended on the Capitol. The month-long, round-the-clock occupation drew international attention, but failed to stop the bill.
A decade later, the aftershocks of one of the biggest political earthquakes in Wisconsin history continue to be felt. Taxes have been held in check, and state finances have improved. But public unions are vastly diminished and the state is more politically divided than ever.
Here are 10 stories from people who experienced the historic events firsthand.
Former Sen. Mark Miller and Rep. Peter Barca tried to slow down passage of the legislation to force a compromise.
A decade later, former Gov. Scott Walker said he views Act 10 as one of the best things he's done for the state.
Susan Cohen wondered if the Capitol dome would come crumbling down from the cacophonous vibrations during the Act 10 protests.
Dale Schultz believes the state's ability to solve people's problems was greatly diminished by Act 10.
Longtime Madison Teachers Inc. leader John Matthews explains why collective bargaining still matters.
Charles Tubbs said his mission was communicating with protesters and voluntary compliance.
During the peak of the Act 10 protests, Ian's Pizza was delivering 1,200 pizzas a day to protesters.
Sen. Joan Ballweg saw the recall elections that resulted from Act 10 as the people getting a chance to have their say.
Michele Ritt remembered her son Josef Rademacher wearing a hole in the soles of his snow boots during the protests.