Republicans and Democrats are pouring millions into an obscure Wisconsin judicial race that suddenly has emerged as a proxy battle over the policies of GOP Gov. Scott Walker, with each candidate's supporters accusing their opponents of dirty political tricks.
The outcome of Tuesday’s election for the state Supreme Court, which pits incumbent conservative Justice David Prosser against Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, could have national implications
At stake is the measure Walker signed into law that cuts most bargaining rights for public-sector workers. The law is under challenge and likely to be appealed to the state Supreme Court. The court now now holds a slim conservative majority.
“I would say the campaign being run against Prosser is absolutely, filthy dirty,” Levi Russell, a spokesman for Tea Party Express, tells Newsmax.
Russell adds that several of the third-party ads targeting Prosser are “abject lies, just completely false.”
Prossers’ supporters are especially angry that Kloppenburg has refused to denounce an ad in which a third-party progressive organization charges that, when Prosser was the Outagamie County district attorney in 1978, he failed to aggressively prosecute a case against a priest who later was convicted of abusing a man who now lives in Virginia.
The individual who suffered the abuse, Troy Merryfield, has since come forward to appear in a pro-Prosser ad sponsored by Citizens for a Strong America. In that ad, Merryfield states he is “being victimized again. This time, JoAnne Kloppenburg’s allies want to use our pain for their own gain.”
On Sunday, a reporter for National Review Online asked Kloppenburg why she had not disavowed the ad.
“Third parties have First Amendment rights to run the ads of their own choosing,” she replied. “I’m not whining about all of the attacks ads that are untrue about me.” Asked to specify which ads she was referring to, Kloppenburg replied, “All of them.”
Sources report that about $2.5 million already has been spent on the race, and projections are that expenditures on both sides could tally more than $5 million when the smoke finally clears.
By comparison, costs in a normal election cycle for a state Supreme Court race in Wisconsin probably would amount to less than $400,000.
Prosser is part of the Wisconsin high court’s 4-to-3 conservative majority. The court ultimately is expected to rule on the legality of Walker’s efforts to rein in the power of public-sector unions.
So if Democrats and their union allies can push Kloppenburg over the top, they stand an excellent chance of blocking key reforms Republicans say are necessary to plug a $3.6 billion budget deficit without resorting to massive layoffs.
But the national implications of the contest are even greater. Most analysts say defeating Prosser will send an unmistakable signal that Republicans who stand up to the forces pushing for the continual expansion of big government may have to pay for it with their political careers.
Internal GOP polls reportedly show the race at just about dead even. But there are several reasons to believe Kloppenburg could be poised to deliver a serious blow to austerity-minded Republicans.
Grass-roots conservatives tell Newsmax they didn’t realize the popular Prosser was in trouble until reports came in of union money flooding into the race. Republicans, who may have relaxed momentarily after Walker won his budget-reform battle after 14 Democratic senators fled their own state to obstruct a vote on the legislation, have been forced to play catch-up.
Another factor working against Prosser: The two most heavily Democratic counties in the state — Milwaukee and Dane — have open county executive races. Those hard-fought contests are expected to spur a relatively strong voter turnout in those areas.
Based on historical trends, state officials are predicting that only about 20 percent of Wisconsin’s 4.4 million voters will cast ballots.
Considering the stakes, it is no surprise that a last-minute push is under way to influence the outcome. Both sides are describing Wisconsin as ground zero in the national battle over how to address the nation’s fiscal woes.
On Saturday, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. joined marchers in downtown Milwaukee.
“The impact of this state’s rights agenda will be devastating to teachers, public workers, and workers rights,” Jackson said. “We think that Wisconsin is Ground Zero for economic justice issues.”
Jackson was expected to make other appearances in a bid to get out the vote.
The Tea Party Express.org website, meanwhile, accuses Big Labor of trying to “hijack the election” by pouring millions into the race.
Wisconsin state Sen. Dan Kapanke, a Walker supporter who on Friday became the first GOP senator to face over 20,000 signatures calling for a recall election, tells Newsmax that the national interest the race is generating is “incredible.”
“Wisconsin is like ground zero, and this Supreme Court race has taken on a national tone," Kapanke says. “My recall, and many of the other recall elections, will also take on a national flavor. So there’s a lot at stake here, and there’s a call on both sides to wage a big battle."
A Prosser victory would require a formidable grass-roots campaign, and it is clear one is under way. Kapanke says conservative activists are going door-to-door and mounting a huge telephone campaign to get out the vote.
Russell, of the Tea Party Express, says the organization has its members throughout the nation calling into voters in Wisconsin in a bid to sway the outcome. The organization also is airing TV ads throughout the state.
Asked whether grass-roots conservatives could swing the race, Russell told Newsmax: “I don’t know. The anger and the vitriol on the left is very thick. They’re very serious and they have been galvanized in this effort for a lot longer than the right has been pushing back on it. So it makes me nervous."
Kapanke was guardedly optimistic, however.
“It’s going to be very interesting,” he says. “We’re up for it. I’m up for it, my supporters are up for it, and I’m sure the other side is as well. So it should be interesting to watch from around the nation.”
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