An ominous bellwether for Walker and the GOP

JoAnne Kloppenburg narrowly defeated incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in a huge statewide race Tuesday that is still subject to recount. For reasons that I went through in my pre-election entry, this was a stunning accomplishment. Prosser had this thing essentially won in a laugher a couple of months ago, but Governor Walker and the GOP legislative leadership proceeded to set up a situation in which the high court race became a proxy referendum on the way things are going in Madison.

The answer: ugly. Few people in the Badger State even knew who Kloppenburg was a few months back. Today, she’s become an icon in a movement with plenty of things left to do – and none of them are helpful to Walker or the Fitzgerald brothers.

Whistling past the graveyard in a capitol press conference following the election today that was covered by WisPolitics, Walker offered some interesting reactions that don’t mesh up all that well with each other or reality:

“You’ve got a world driven by Madison, and a world driven by everybody else out across the majority of the rest of the state of Wisconsin,” said Walker.

Well, maybe there is some truth to that. But Prosser was a long-time, well-known veteran of many legislative elections in the Fox Valley. He had a dozen years on the Supreme Court bench and a statewide election to his credit. Millions of dollars were spent on his behalf and he had the huge advantage of incumbency, which history shows is the single most important asset in things like this. Prosser didn’t only lose in Dane and Milwaukee counties, either. Almost half the counties in Wisconsin fell into Kloppenburg’s column and Prosser lost in 19 counties that Walker won in November.

It says a ton that such a fellow could fall from a prohibitively strong primary victory in mid-February to coming in second in an early April general against an opponent that looked like an afterthought less than 50 days ago. Something happened between those elections and it wasn’t all about Prosser and Kloppenburg. It was mostly about Scott Walker and the GOP.

“For those who believe it’s a referendum, while it might have a statewide impact that we may lean one way or the other, it’s largely driven by Madison, and to a lesser extent Milwaukee,” the governor said. “But those Senate recall elections on both the Democrat and Republican side aren’t being held in Madison, they aren’t being held in Milwaukee.”

There’s some truth to that, too. In La Crosse County, for example, it doesn’t look real good for GOP recall subject Senator Dale Kapanke or for the GOP’s prospects in retaining the seat of former GOP Assembly leader Mike Huebsch. But you can’t have it both ways (and neither can I, for that matter.) Walker wants us to believe that places where Prosser finished well mean that the GOP is in a strong position for potential recalls. That may well be the case (if you ignore the fact that having to defend seats between general elections for them is a pretty significant issue all by itself.) But out of the other side of his mouth, Walker doesn’t think the Supreme Court election should be viewed as a referendum on his administration or the GOP’s legislative adventures over the past few months. So which is it?

Well, here’s another way to look at it: people showed up in droves yesterday and when it was over, somebody had dropped a house on Walker’s guy.

JR

Here’s an interesting pair of maps showing recall districts and the Supreme Court vote April 5:

http://ericcompas.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/supreme-court-recall-districts/

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