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Wisconsin’s Budget Battle Lands on the Ballot

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Protesters rally against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal outside the state capitol in Madison, Wis. Both parties have made the fight a national referendum.

In a testament to the local and national significance of the race, local television stations are already clogged with election-related independent expenditure advertising — reminiscent of a presidential contest.

“IEs rule the airwaves,” said Mark Jefferson, executive director of the state Republican Party, which, like its Democratic counterpart, is not allowed to make direct contributions to the candidates.

While outside spending in state races is sometimes difficult to track, roughly $1.7 million had been spent on the race through the middle of last week, according to a study produced by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. The final total will be far higher.

The ads have turned nasty at times.

On Friday, the conservative group Citizens for a Strong America released a new ad responding to attacks from Kloppenburg allies claiming that Prosser allowed a child molester to go free. The new spot features one of the victims, Troy Merryfield, who says, “Now we’re being victimized again.”

“This time, Joanne Kloppenburg allies want to use our pain for their own gain,” Merryfield says. “I asked Joanne Kloppenburg to try to stop these false ads. Joanne Kloppenburg refused. It’s just wrong.”

The Tea Party Express this week vowed to buy “every available time slot on Wisconsin TV” to run its own advertisement, which attacks Prosser’s challenger, a repeat candidate. “Big union bosses want Joanne Kloppenburg, an activist judge they can control,” the ad says.

Jefferson said judicial elections are typically decided by qualifications and experience, but there’s no precedent for what’s happening this year.

“Whether or not the Walker thing overshadows all of the other issues, I’m not sure,” he said. “Wisconsin voters have tried to keep the partisanship out of the [Supreme Court] races. This time around, it’s inevitable there’s going to be some. The question is how much voters will tolerate.”

Palin may have raised the partisan stakes late last week.

In her usual style, the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee tweeted her choice Friday.

“Wisconsin, please remember to vote for Justice Prosser on April 5,” Palin wrote in her endorsement, which was lauded by the Tea Party Express and received national attention.

Meanwhile, the nationalization of Wisconsin politics isn’t expected to end anytime soon.

Republicans and Democrats are pushing to recall state Senators involved in the collective bargaining fight.

Republicans, having made significant gains during the 2010 midterms, have the most to lose.

On Friday, local Democratic activists submitted the first batch of signatures needed to recall their eight targets. Assuming the state certifies the signatures, a special election to recall GOP state Sen. Dan Kapanke could be scheduled in mid-summer. And Democrats are on the way to forcing new elections in seven more districts held by Republican state Senators.

While Republicans may do the same in a handful of Democratic districts, a net Democratic pickup of three seats would shift control of the state Senate.

“Today’s news will send shock waves throughout Wisconsin, and it gives huge momentum to efforts in other Senate districts to gather recall signatures,” leaders of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee wrote in a message to supporters Friday.

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