Once obscure election now in national spotlight
Thousands of demonstrators protest outside the Wisconsin State Capitol March 12, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin.
April 5th, 2011
01:55 PM ET
11 years ago

Once obscure election now in national spotlight

Washington (CNN) - An election Tuesday in Wisconsin is attracting national attention and big bucks.

Voters in the state are casting ballots for a state Supreme Court justice. The once obscure contest is grabbing national headlines and independent groups from the right and the left have spent more than $2.5 million dollars over the past two weeks on television commercials to try and influence the outcome of the technically non-partisan election.

The reason for all this attention and money is because the election has become a proxy battle in the fight over a controversial new law passed by state Republicans and signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker last month that restricts the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. That battle caused Democratic state lawmakers to flee Wisconsin and sparked weeks of protests at the state capitol building in Madison.

Up for re-election Tuesday is Justice David Prosser. Some unions and progressive groups are backing his more liberal challenger, assistant attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg. The contest is the first state-wide election since the law was passed, and it's being seen as a referendum on the Republican governor's push to limit the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers.

But the election is also very important for another reason. The new law is being challenged in court, and it appears likely the case will reach the state supreme court. Prosser's seat is the swing vote. With Prosser on the bench, conservatives have a 4 to 3 advantage. If the more liberal Kloppenburg wins the election, the balance of power on the court shifts.

With all this in mind, it's no surprise that $3.4 million has been spent on television commercials on the election by independent groups over the past 90 days, with $2.5 million being spent just in the past two weeks, according to an analysis conducted by Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group, CNN's consultant on political and issue advertising. It's a record breaking infusion of cash for a state judicial election, as both progressives and conservatives try to influence the shape of the court.

"Due to the state of affairs, Wisconsin is now the tip of the spear for party politics, the local races are now attracting national attention and spending," says Evan Tracey, president of CMAG and a CNN consultant.

The biggest spender is the Great Wisconsin Committee, a progressive group that is supporting Kloppenburg and is opposed to Walker and the new law. The group has spent more than $1.2 million on ad time.

–Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn

Filed under: Scott Walker • Wisconsin
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. steven harnack

    I would think that this could skew things in unexpected ways. Couldn't the new Justice act in a way that is out of character just to avoid the appearance of rewarding their backers? I can't say that I like high courts being electioneers. If a case comes before them that deals with elections to they have to all recuse themselves since they would be beholden to one side or the other>

    April 5, 2011 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  2. T'sah from Virginia

    EVERY race from this day forward will reflect on the Republican Governors and the way they are mishandling their states!!!

    April 5, 2011 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  3. ConservaFascists/FUBAR

    Justice David Proesser WILL NOT GET RE-ELECTED.

    April 5, 2011 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  4. skibum

    Clear evidence why judges should NOT be elected. Judges should not be politicians. Thankfully the founding fathers realized that in setting up the SC

    April 5, 2011 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  5. Marjee123

    And the poor poor republicans and tea bags are moaning and thrashing about saying Unions are paying for ads. Well an organization funded by the Koch Bros and the Chamber of Commerce along with some other of those republican TAX FREE
    organizations are funneling millions and millions in ads for RUBBER STAMP PROSSER.

    April 5, 2011 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  6. Dean

    I guess this just shows that the Supreme Court and its decisions is not about following the rules of law but about bowing to the wishes of your political party.
    Is there any offical in this country who is not corrupt?

    April 5, 2011 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  7. GOP = Greed Over People

    Looks like this would be a fair assessment of what the populace of Wisconsin thinks about the tea baggers and the GOP agenda.

    If the woman wins then "the people refudiate" the GOP agenda, if the fellow wins they agree with it.

    As this vote will result in either blocking the union law or approving the law.

    Seems simple enough.

    Be sure and report the results, CNN(but spare us from the hours of "analysis" from the panel of experts).

    April 5, 2011 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  8. Go Cheeseheads

    Please stop the corporate-Koch brothers takeover of Wisconsin.

    April 5, 2011 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  9. Shawn

    Hey Teabags, you've already failed and America hates you. It's backlash time. Enjoy!

    April 5, 2011 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    "Some unions and progressive groups are backing his more liberal challenger, assistant attorney general JoAnne
    Kloppenburg. "

    Hey CNN, uhhh which "*Unions" might be backing the opponent? And how much TAX PAYER MONEY ARE THEY KICKING IN????? The biggest contributer is The Greater Wisconsin Committee who is a 527 tax exemt group, you know like the ones the DEMOCRATS scream about because Carl Rove runs one.

    The Unions are trying to buy this election and take the choice away from voters about what kind of Govt they want.

    I'm looking into where I can send my money to support Justice David Proesser.

    April 5, 2011 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  11. Toni

    They should vote to recall the Governor. He made it so the son of one of his backers got an $81,500 a year state job for which he is not qualified. And he's taking jobs away becuase of a budget crisis in the state???

    April 5, 2011 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  12. Rudy NYC

    That ain't the Tea Party in the lead photo above. Those are people who actually live in that state, not a traveling circus of clowns wearing funny looking hats. (Must be nice to able to afford extended those trips like that.) Those are real Americans in that picture expressing their displeasure over job cuts. Job cuts enacted by job creationists.

    April 5, 2011 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  13. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    The forces of Evil are always counting on apathy, and lack of information, that's how they push their nefarious and self-serving agendas through. Tell them " Not this time, and not here" Wisconsinites!!
    Good luck!!!j

    April 5, 2011 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  14. The Real Tom Paine

    Bye-bye, Scottie boy and your union-busting....you'll lose. Its too bad an otherwise decent judge has to lose his job, but, in the words of Speaker Boehner, so be it. Your little law is toast, and so are you, come January 2012.

    April 5, 2011 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  15. gord

    i truly believe that after medicar, social secuity, unemployment insurance,are all gone the republican battle cry will be [why should your employer have to pay for your health care]

    April 5, 2011 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  16. Lisa P

    Actually, the surprising thing to me after last Fall's election is that the ads are roughly balanced this time - last Fall they were overwhelmingly Republican (or anti-Democratic, to be more accurate: very little was said by Republican supporters about Republican candidates). Unfortunately both sides now seem to be enamored of Hissing Woman and Scornful Man. About the only clean, positive, straightforward ads I've seen are for the County Executive's race, and that's a blow-out (the conservative candidate only made it into the final contest because the liberals split their votes among five equally well qualified primary election candidates).

    I'll be happy when this is over and we can get down to the serious business of recalling and replacing State Senate Republicans. We don't get our chance at the Governor until next January - no reason to leave him loose to do whatever damage he can think up in the meantime.

    April 5, 2011 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |