Madison, Wis. — An hour after midnight, JoAnne Kloppenburg emerged from behind a flimsy black curtain at the Edgewater Hotel downtown. Her supporters, weary after idling for over four hours, crowded the makeshift dais, hoping for good news. Instead they got a smile, and little more, from their candidate. “It’s not over yet,” she told them. “We’re still hopeful.”
A couple months ago, Kloppenburg was an unknown environmental lawyer, with no more than an outside chance of ousting state-supreme justice David Prosser, a judicial conservative, at the polls. But when rookie governor Scott Walker, a Republican, pushed hard to pass his budget-repair bill, and drew criticism for passing the legislation with a limited quorum, progressives began to plot a high-court comeuppance. Now the bill sits at the door of the supreme court, its future uncertain.
To thwart Walker, the Left must topple Prosser, who is the keystone of the bench’s 4–3 conservative majority. But as Kloppenburg noted in her brief remarks, the outcome of Tuesday’s upper-court brawl may not be known for days. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, and over 1.5 million votes cast, Prosser leads, but only a few hundred votes separate the pair.
A source close to Prosser tells me that the margin is “going to shrink” and that the statewide tally will likely be decided by a handful of votes. “While we are cautiously optimistic, it’s safe to say that this campaign will transition from turning out votes to protecting the integrity of, and recounting, the votes,” he says.
Milwaukee County, where Walker once served as county executive, is waiting on a few precincts to report. Kloppenburg has built a strong lead in the Brew City region, so she is expected to pick up some votes there in coming hours. Dane County, home to the left-leaning capital, also has one outstanding precinct, whose returns will likely help Kloppenburg. Prosser, for his part, may be able to pick up a few votes in Jefferson County and Taylor County.
“When you look at the margin at the present moment, 585 votes as I understand it, I think we feel pretty good about that margin, given what is still out,” Prosser told his supporters on Tuesday, urging them to keep their fingers crossed. “I had a rip-roaring victory speech prepared,” he chuckled. “I have to confess that I also had a concession speech prepared for tonight. I don’t have a speech for an impasse at 1:40 in the morning.”
Turnout on Tuesday was uncharacteristically high for an April nonpartisan race. Normally such elections generate about 20 percent turnout, at best. But according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, over 33 percent of the state’s electorate turned out to vote. Follow the results, via the AP, here.