MILWAUKEE — Prolabor organizations and one of the country’s largest Tea Party movement groups are pouring money into tomorrow’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election in an effort to turn the normally sleepy race into a referendum on the national fight over labor rights.
The attention from conservative and liberal groups has energized voters and set the election on pace to be the most expensive high court race in Wisconsin’s history. Sarah Palin even weighed in via Twitter on Friday, throwing her support behind the incumbent conservative justice.
The candidates, Justice David Prosser and Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, say the race is about their qualifications.
But the unusual level of interest has put the union issue front and center and shows passions remain inflamed over Republican Governor Scott Walker’s collective bargaining law, which sparked weeks of angry protests at the Capitol and made Wisconsin the center of the ideological debate over union rights.
Four conservative groups, including the Tea Party Express, have combined to spend $1.2 million so far on pro-Prosser ads, according to a media-tracking group. A liberal heavyweight had spent $993,000, as of Thursday. And spending on both sides was expected to hit a furious pace in the campaign’s final days.
The seven-member court is officially nonpartisan. But Prosser is seen as part of a conservative four-justice majority, while a win by Kloppenburg would tilt the court’s ideological balance to the left.
That could make a difference if a challenge to Walker’s law makes its way to the state Supreme Court. The law is on hold after a judge ruled Friday that a temporary restraining order blocking it would remain in place for at least two months.
Regardless of who wins, the governor says he won’t interpret the results as an endorsement or indictment of his policies.
But the electorate, along with lawmakers, is certain to find deeper meaning in the outcome, said Charles Franklin, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“If the Democrats win it sends a strong message to the Republican lawmakers about how aroused the Democratic constituency is,’’ he said. “Conversely, if Prosser is reelected it’s a huge win for the Republicans. . . . It should actually strengthen their resolve.’’