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Five ads that defined Tuesday's elections in Wisconsin and Chicago

Voters head to the polls on Tuesday to select Chicago's next mayor and Wisconsin's next Supreme Court justice. Here are the pivotal ads they saw on TV.


Voters in Wisconsin and Chicago are heading to the polls on Tuesday to select a new mayor in the Windy City and a new state Supreme Court justice in the Badger State.

Wisconsin's state Supreme Court race is already the most expensive state Supreme Court race in U.S. history, with $28 million alone spent on campaign ads since the primary, according to AdImpact, an ad-tracking firm.

In Chicago, another $12 million has already been spent on campaign ads in the race's runoff, where two candidates advanced from a February election after no one received a majority of the vote.

Here are the most consequential TV ads voters in the two races have seen over the last few weeks:

1. Accusations about abortion rights

In one ad, Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz's campaign for Supreme Court featured a woman telling viewers, "On the [state] Supreme Court, [former state Supreme Court Justice] Dan Kelly will uphold the criminal ban on abortion."

Protasiewicz is running as a liberal in the Wisconsin race and has been vocal about her personal support for abortion rights. Her opponent, Kelly, a conservative, has been endorsed by anti-abortion rights groups, but he has promised to evaluate the facts of a potential case before making a decision on abortion. The state Supreme Court could hear a case challenging Wisconsin's 19th-century law banning abortion, especially if Protasiewicz wins and flips control of the court to liberals.

In response to allegations like the one made in this ad, Kelly told Protasiewicz at a debate last month, "You don’t know what I’m thinking about that abortion ban — you have no idea."

2. Kelly's first ad

While Protasiewicz was running ads attacking Kelly since the day after Wisconsin's primary election, Kelly's campaign waited a few weeks before getting into the race.

His first TV ad came out just days before the first and only debate between the two candidates and featured support from several law enforcement officers.

Kelly's late jump onto the airwaves has led to a major discrepancy -- since the Feb. 21 primary, Protasiewicz's campaign has spent almost $11 million on TV ads, while Kelly's campaign has spent just over $1 million.

3. Allegations of trauma

Protasiewicz might have a major spending advantage over Kelly, but two outside groups supporting him -- Fair Courts America and WMC Issues Mobilization Council -- have narrowed the spending gap. They've spent a combined $9.6 million on ads backing Kelly and attacking Protasiewicz since the primary.

Several of those ads focused on a case Protasiewicz oversaw in Milwaukee, in which a woman was sexually assaulted. The ad by WMC Issues Mobilization Council includes a part of the victim's impact statement and alleged, "Judge Protasiewicz ignored her pleas; let the rapist off easy."

Last week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the victim had actually been "100% satisfied" with the sentence her attacker received and had taken major steps to avoid seeing the ad on TV, in order to avoid distress from the details of her case resurfacing.

4. Attacking past "defund the police" comments

In Chicago, crime and public safety has been a focal point in the mayoral race, where former Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas has brought the issue front and center and 44% of voters called "crime and public safety" their top issue in a local poll.

For Vallas' opponent, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, past comments he made in support of the "defund the police" movement have resurfaced throughout the race.

They are the focus of one of Vallas' TV ads, which features a narrator telling viewers, "Brandon Johnson’s goal is to defund the police. Paul Vallas will put crime and your safety first."

Johnson has since walked back his comments about defunding the police, saying at a forum, "I said it was a political goal. I never said it was mine."

5. Higher taxes, racist tweets and calling himself a Republican

These are some of the allegations Johnson levels at Vallas in a TV ad he released in March.

The ad alleges that Vallas "wrecked Chicago's school finances, leaving us with billions in higher property taxes," that he was "caught spreading racist and homophobic tweets," and that Vallas called himself a Republican.

Vallas has disputed those claims, though. In a debate between the two candidates, he told a moderator, "I’m a lifelong Democrat." And, with regard to liking inflammatory tweets, his campaign said that, "[Vallas] had nothing to do with liking these posts, but the campaign takes responsibility and we have taken steps to restrict access to the account.”