Female candidate at the forefront of a big money, high stakes judicial race in Wisconsin. Politico – A conservative judge’s campaign for re-election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court has become the next front in a growing multi-state Republican effort to limit the power of organized labor.
The once-obscure judicial race, which will be decided in a Tuesday election, has taken on national implications both because Gov. Scott Walker’s signature legislation stripping public union bargaining powers could be decided by the court and because it’s the first time voters have gone to the polls since Walker signed the bill that sparked the national push.
The contest between incumbent David Prosser and liberal challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg has attracted an infusion of outside spending that could total as much as $5 million. Much of it has been expended on increasingly ugly ads funded by independent groups that either have a stake in the Wisconsin union fight or see the outcome of the court race as a potentially symbolic pivot point on an issue with major implications for the 2012 election.
Dozens of groups have become involved in the race – some with major union backing, one with deep-pocketed backing from Wisconsin businesses, and other online liberal activists, anti-abortion organizations and tea party forces such as the Tea Party Express and American Majority.
And, in perhaps the ultimate indication that the race had become a national lightning rod, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin weighed in Friday, endorsing Prosser.
“It looked like this was going to be a relatively sleepy affair where the incumbent was going to coast to victory,” said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a non-partisan watchdog.
“But everything changed about seven or eight weeks ago when all hell broke loose in Wisconsin and almost instantly this race became a referendum on Scott Walker – and a dogfight,” said McCabe, whose group is tracking the groups getting involved in the race.
Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said “if Prosser loses, it that will show that Republicans have awoken a sleeping giant in the electorate with their war on working families.”
Through Saturday, Green’s group, which also is raising money for recall campaigns against GOP Wisconsin state senators who supported Walker’s bill, had placed 27,000 phone calls urging Wisconsinites to vote for Kloppenburg.
Her victory, he added, “would have big ripple effects both in terms of giving momentum to the recall efforts and, nationally, it would show that Republicans are about to lose a lot of elections in the near future.”
On the other side, the Tea Party Express, a political action committee, has spent more than $150,000 airing an ad calling Kloppenburg “an activist judge” who “big union bosses … can control.”
“We got involved because the left wants to use success in Wisconsin as a warning to fiscal conservatives in other states: don’t try to get serious about getting the budget under control because we’re just going to stand in your way, ” Sal Russo, the California GOP operative whose firm runs the PAC, told POLITICO.
Through Friday, outside groups had spent a total of $2.4 million on television ads in the Supreme Court race, according to data provided by the tracking service TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG to the, which analyzes judicial races.
Of the $5 million that McCabe predicted could be the eventual total price tag for the race, only a fraction will have been spent by the candidates, each of whom participated in a new public financing program that gave their campaigns $400,000 to spend, but barred them from raising or spending private money on top of that.
“The candidates have been pushed to the sidelines and we’re getting to a point where they’ve almost become bystanders in their own election,” said McCabe.
The race, for one of seven seats on the court, is technically non-partisan. The court currently is comprised of four reliable conservatives, two liberals and a swing vote who has stronger ties to the GOP, meaning a Kloppenburg victory wouldn’t create a reliable liberal majority, according to McCabe.
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