Wisconsin Attorney General election, 2022
The Wisconsin attorney general election in November 2022 will determine who serves as the state’s top legal officer for the next four years. The attorney general heads the Department of Justice and has wide-ranging responsibilities from public safety to consumer protection.
Incumbent Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, is running for a second term. He was first elected narrowly in 2018 after ousting Republican incumbent Brad Schimel.
With Schimel not seeking re-election in 2022, the Republican primary featured a spirited three-way race to take on Kaul. The GOP candidates were Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, former state representative Adam Jarchow, and attorney Karen Mueller.
Republican Primary Candidates
Eric Toney has been the district attorney in Fond du Lac County since 2013. He was first elected to the post at age 28, becoming one of Wisconsin’s youngest DAs ever.
Toney has highlighted his prosecutorial experience and ties to law enforcement. His campaign has centered on issues like public safety, getting tough on crime, and supporting the police.
If elected attorney general, Toney says he’ll boost resources for law enforcement, crack down on crime, and tighten the state’s election laws. He’s portrayed Kaul as soft on crime and overly partisan.
Adam Jarchow is a lawyer who previously served in the Wisconsin State Assembly from 2015 to 2019. In the legislature, he sat on the influential Joint Finance Committee.
Jarchow’s AG campaign played up his fiscal conservative credentials and desire to limit government. He advocated for a less activist, partisan attorney general’s office.
His priorities included fighting human trafficking, defending voter ID, supporting gun rights, and restricting abortion access. Jarchow positioned himself to the right of Toney in the GOP primary.
Karen Mueller is a lawyer based in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. She ran as a political outsider, emphasizing her nearly 40 years of legal experience in private practice.
Mueller’s priorities included strengthening protections for crime victims, defending due process rights, safeguarding the elderly from abuse, and upholding free speech rights. She touted her pro bono work as well.
While a long-shot, Mueller offered GOP primary voters an outside perspective grounded in her career beyond elected politics.
Democratic Primary Candidate
Josh Kaul has been Wisconsin’s attorney general since January 2019. He previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Maryland from 2010-2014.
Before becoming attorney general, Kaul was also a voting rights attorney. He’s taught election law at Stanford Law School and the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Kaul has touted his efforts to strengthen public safety by funding crime lab analysts, drug prosecutors, and investigators focused on internet crimes against children. He’s also highlighted his work protecting healthcare, the environment, and consumers.
If re-elected, Kaul says he’ll keep working to expand healthcare access, champion environmental protections, strengthen gun safety laws, and safeguard reproductive rights. He’s portrayed Republicans as prioritizing divisive partisan issues over Wisconsinites’ interests.
General Election Campaign
Public Safety & Crime
A major theme has been crime, public safety, and support for law enforcement. This was a prominent topic throughout the Republican primary as well.
Toney has strongly criticized Kaul’s approach to crime and public safety. As the self-proclaimed “law enforcement candidate,” Toney argues he’ll give police the support and resources they need to make communities safe.
Kaul has defended his public safety record, saying he’s directed more funding towards crime labs, drug prosecutions, and officers combating internet crimes against children. He contends Toney is distorting the facts for political purposes.
Abortion access has been a flashpoint in the AG race. After Roe v. Wade was overturned, Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban took effect, though its enforcement is disputed.
Kaul has said he won’t use DOJ resources to investigate or prosecute alleged violations of the 1849 law. He’s called for the ban to be repealed and abortion access protections restored.
Meanwhile, Toney has said he’s pro-life but the AG must enforce laws as they exist. He’s accused Kaul of selective enforcement regarding the abortion ban.
Toney has made defending Wisconsin’s election system central to his campaign. He touts his experience as DA prosecuting voter fraud cases from the 2020 election.
If elected, Toney says he’ll restore election integrity by requiring voter ID and tightening restrictions on absentee voting. He’s alleged Kaul failed to stand up for election security.
Kaul has defended his oversight of elections, arguing he’s worked to make voting both secure and accessible for all eligible voters. He contends Toney supports restrictive election laws that would disenfranchise legal voters.
Endorsements & Support
Toney has trumpeted endorsements from law enforcement organizations and officers statewide, burnishing his brand as the law-and-order candidate.
Meanwhile, Kaul has garnered backing from an array of labor unions, progressive groups, conservation organizations, and Democratic elected officials. This reflects his stances on environmental issues, reproductive rights, healthcare access and more.
The Wisconsin attorney general race is expected to be extremely competitive, potentially coming down to a razor-thin margin as it did in 2018.
Kaul’s political fate may also be closely intertwined with that of Democratic Governor Tony Evers, who faces a tough re-election fight himself. Outcomes up and down the ballot could hinge on broader national dynamics this midterm cycle.
Republicans are seen as having the edge this year given President Biden’s low approval and concerns about the economy. These dynamics could potentially boost Toney against the incumbent Kaul.
The high-stakes 2022 election for Wisconsin attorney general pits incumbent Josh Kaul against Republican challenger Eric Toney. Debates around crime, policing, abortion access, and election laws have fueled tense exchanges between the candidates.
Kaul is promoting his efforts to direct more resources towards public safety while protecting healthcare, the environment, and voting rights. Toney has criticized Kaul as weak on crime and supportive of partisan policies out of step with Wisconsin voters.
This race could offer insights into how voters are weighing divisive issues around crime, social policy, and cultural debates. The outcome will also shape the AG office’s role in legal battles over abortion, voting laws, and other major disputes in the years ahead.
What are the Wisconsin attorney general’s main responsibilities?
As head of the state DOJ, the AG serves as Wisconsin’s chief legal officer. Key duties include advising state entities, prosecuting crimes, combating fraud and corruption, enforcing consumer protections, overseeing elections, and representing Wisconsin in court.
How competitive is the 2022 Wisconsin AG election projected to be?
The race is expected to be extremely tight and competitive based on recent Wisconsin electoral history. The AG outcome will also likely depend somewhat on broader midterm voting dynamics.
What happens if Kaul and Toney end up tied in votes?
If they receive the exact same number of votes, state law requires the race be decided through a “drawing of lots.” Each candidate has a proxy draw a piece of paper from a box, with the winner being whoever draws the paper marked “elected.”
Does the attorney general determine Wisconsin’s abortion policies?
No, the AG does not make laws around abortion access and restrictions. However, the office does provide legal guidance on abortion regulations and oversees enforcement of related laws.
How much campaign money have Kaul and Toney raised?
As of late October 2022, Kaul had raised around $4.7 million and spent $3.9 million, while Toney had raised approximately $1.9 million and spent $1.6 million. Kaul has outraised Toney, but GOP groups have heavily outspent Democrats on outside ads.