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Posted at 01:51 PM ET, 04/06/2011

Why the left’s showing in Wisconsin Supreme Court race is a big deal

In the nationally-watched Wisconsin state Supreme Court race, liberal challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg has edged ahead of conservative sitting justice David Prosser by just over 200 votes.

We still don’t know who is going to win, and we may not know for some time to come. But even if Kloppenburg loses, labor strategists argue, this will have constituted a victory for unions and Dems — proof of Scott Walker’s continuing toxicity, and of the staying power of the grassroots energy he unleashed. They’re right.

The emerging GOP spin on this race, according to Ben Smith, is that the razor-thin closeness of the contest constitutes vindication for Walker, and proof that the right can stand up to the labor goons. One GOPer tells Smith (who was appropriately skeptical) that this is a “massive bummer for the bad guys” because labor and Dems threw “everything they have” at this race.

Sure, GOPers will be able to crow if they win, but this is still mostly nonsense. Here’s why.

First, the current results reflect a massive and astonishingly fast swing of support away from Prosser and in Kloppenburg’s favor. In a primary election in February (Wisconsin judicial elections are nonpartisan, and the top two primary victors face off in the general), Prosser beat Koppenburg by 30 points, 55-25. The current results show she doubled her vote share in just over six weeks, while Prosser has lost ground. This huge shift happened for one reason: Scott Walker.

Second, it’s extremely rare in Wisconsin to oust sitting Supreme Court justices. In 2008, Louis Butler was unseated, but as University of Wisconsin professor Charles Franklin points out to me, he had originally been appointed and not elected. The last time this happened before that was 44 years ago, and it only happened three times before that since the court was created in 1852.

Third, for all the talk about labor muscle in this race, labor and Dems were actually outspent on the air by a sizable amount. According to an analysis of outside spending by the Brennan Center, the pro-Kloppenburg forces spent $1.3 million, while the pro-Prosser forces spent a total of almost $2.2 million, nearly $1 million more. You can argue that TV spending doesn’t matter that much in this race, because a lot of this was driven by on-the-ground organizing, but if anything, the race’s closeness would make it even clearer that labor’s ground forces outperformed expections.

No question, a loss for Kloppenburg would allow GOPers to claim a much-needed victory and boast that they held off labor’s onslaught. But even without a win, labor and Dems will have exceeded expectations big time, and will have proved that the grassroots energy unleashed by Walker’s overreach is still in full force. And of course, if Kloppenburg does pull this off, it will constitute a huge win that will only lend more momentum to the recall drives and confirm that Walker remains as politically toxic as ever.

UPDATE: Will all precincts counted, Kloppenburg leads by 204 votes, and she has now declared victory. What remains to be seen is whether Prosser will demand a recount.

By  |  01:51 PM ET, 04/06/2011

 
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