Green Lake, Wis. — On the frozen lip of sprawling Big Green Lake, local Republicans gathered in a small hotel ballroom this afternoon for their annual Lincoln Day dinner. Mark Slate, a 39 year-old candidate for county judge, was decked in a stovepipe hat, but the real attraction was state supreme-court justice David Prosser, who gave a rousing speech, urging conservatives to support him on Tuesday, when he faces JoAnne Kloppenburg, an environmental lawyer, at the polls.
In his remarks, Prosser noted that the race has gone national. Union-friendly groups are pouring millions into the contest, hoping to tilt the ideological balance of the bench to the left. If Prosser is defeated, Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill could face a rocky future, since a state appellate panel has asked the high court to weigh in on the legislation’s legality.
“Seven weeks ago, this looked like a very sleepy campaign,” Prosser said. “This race is now the most significant judicial race in the country. It is full of symbolism.”
“What is capturing national attention is the fact that one candidate is trying to ride a wave to the Wisconsin supreme court on behalf of resentment against another political figure, and resentment against a piece of legislation that is likely to come before the court,” he continued. “This is the wrong way to determine who should serve on the supreme court for the next ten years.”
Prosser argued that the court must preserve the right of other branches of government to enact law. “Our job is not to substitute our views for the policy decisions made in other branches of government,” he said. “That is what this race has become in the eyes of some people. If [Kloppenburg] succeeds, that will be a direct assault on the independence of the Wisconsin judiciary.”
Prosser faces an uphill climb in campaign’s final hours. Progressives, he observed, have swarmed the state, making Kloppenburg’s candidacy their cause célèbre. “Sometimes I feel like David against the whole empire of the Wisconsin left, and the left from other parts of the country who are coming into this state to try to determine this race.”
Tuesday will be the first time voters mark ballots since Walker’s bill passed last month. Turnout for these springtime, nonpartisan elections usually hovers around 10 to 15 percent, but GOP sources tell me that it could hit nearly 20 or even 30 percent, depending on a variety of factors, from the weather to the level of turnout in liberal Dane County versus more conservative areas upstate.
Outside groups are dominating the political scene, since both candidates have accepted public campaign funds, limiting their ability to raise coin. On the right, the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the Tea Party Express, and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, a chamber of commerce-type group, have together thrown nearly $1 million into pro-Prosser ads. Those organizations, however, are being heavily outspent by the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a lefty outfit with deep union ties.