Donald Trump’s entry into Republican politics could provide a boost to Rebecca Bradley’s try on April 5 for a full 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Trump’s bid for the GOP presidential nomination has stirred broad citizen and media interest in the Republican presidential primaries across America.
Voter turnout for primaries and caucuses in other states through early March show Republicans attracting a third more citizens than similar Democratic election events.
Bradley, in essence, is the Republican candidate for the state Supreme Court post which will be decided in Wisconsin’s April voting – which occurs in the same election as the presidential primary balloting.
Bradley is a favorite of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who appointed her to the court last year after the death of Justice Patrick Crooks. Earlier, Walker had appointed her to a circuit court judgeship, and then to the State Court of Appeals.
Her election opponent is Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, who narrowly lost a State Supreme Court race to Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in 2011. Prosser is a former Republican speaker of the Assembly.
“I won,” Walker said after the Prosser-Kloppenburg votes had been counted that year.
At first blush, this year’s court race seemed to be close. In the February primary Bradley got 44.7 percent of the vote while Kloppenburg received 43.2 percent. Milwaukee Judge Joe Donald, who finished third, has endorsed Kloppenburg.
But Republicans are credited with a better record of voting in non-presidential elections. Trump and his primary opponents have made the GOP primary more exciting.
Wisconsin is different than most other states. It has an “open” primary system. One may vote in either the Republican or Democratic presidential primary, but not in both.
That means Democratic-leaning citizens who are attracted by Trump’s campaign style could cast their ballots for him in the Republican presidential primary and boost GOP turnout.
But if that crossover does occur, it likely will have no impact on balloting for the Supreme Court justice since that race is nonpartisan, and all voters get to make a choice.
Walker himself has been drawn into the edges of the Republican fight over Trump’s bid for the presidency. Earlier this month the governor repeated his promise to support whoever gets the Republican presidential nomination this year.
Walker had made that promise when he quit his brief bid for the GOP nomination last fall. He didn’t budge when the GOP establishment sought to head off Trump with sharp criticism.
The potential Democratic crossover in the April presidential primary race may not give a clear picture of partisan politics in Wisconsin and what that means for the November U.S. Senate campaign.
The better indicator comes from the ostensibly nonpartisan court race. A solid Bradley win will boost morale of Republican leaders. Wisconsin hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential race since Ronald Reagan was on the ballot.
Walker and incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson are doing poorly in telephone polling conducted by the Marquette University Law School. Johnson, who is seeking a second term, is more than double-digit percentages behind Democrat Russ Feingold, who is seeking to return to the Senate.
Walker is supported by fewer than 40 percent of those questioned in the polling. The governor’s term extends through 2018 but he will have to decide, probably within the next year, whether to seek a third four-year term.
But that decision can wait for this year’s partisan election in November. Re-election of Johnson or a Republican in the White House would impact Walker’s thinking and hopes.
The Wisconsin high court election may provide a hint of things to come.
Pommer, known as the “dean” of State Capitol correspondents, has covered government action in Madison for 36 years, including the actions of nine governors. The content in this column does not reflect the views or opinions of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association or its member newspapers.