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Wisconsin's Supreme Court Race Heating Up

Which candidate will win a ten-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court? A UW-Madison political scientist says this could be the hottest statewide race on the April ballot. (WI Court System)
Which candidate will win a ten-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court? A UW-Madison political scientist says this could be the hottest statewide race on the April ballot. (WI Court System)
February 29, 2016

MADISON, Wis. – Just two percentage points separated incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley and Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg in the Feb. 17 primary race for a state Supreme Court seat, and that contest could be the hottest statewide race on the ballot again in April.

A conservative group called the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform spent about $1 million on TV ads for Bradley in the primary, but no outside party ran spots trying to boost Kloppenburg.

UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden says that will change for the April election.

"Well, it looks to be a hard fought race,” he states. “The two candidates came very close in the February primary, and so that portends a close race in April. I expect lots of campaign advertising, so this will be a serious contest."

Bradley ran up big margins in right leaning suburban Milwaukee counties, and Kloppenburg ran very strong in the left leaning Madison metro area.

Burden says it's unclear which candidate will perform better in the April election.

Turnout will be a factor in the race, according to Burden. But he stresses the political arithmetic is very complicated and there are still a lot of big unknowns.

"On the same ballot is the presidential primary for both Republicans and Democrats, and we don't yet know whether the Republicans will still be at one another in that primary, whether Clinton and Sanders will still be competing seriously in their primary, and that dynamic could really affect what happens in the state Supreme Court race," he explains.

Gov. Scott Walker appointed Bradley to the state Supreme Court when Justice Patrick Crooks passed away in September.

Kloppenburg ran for state Supreme Court in 2011, but Burden says things are different now.

"That was viewed largely as a referendum on Scott Walker, but he was viewed differently then than he is now,” Burden stresses. “Coming off his presidential campaign, his approval ratings have fallen. Bradley's attached to him but I think will be downplaying that attachment, unlike maybe some other conservative candidates who have run in the past."


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI