MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin Supreme Court election that offered the public its first formal opportunity to weigh in on the national fight over union rights was very close in the early going Tuesday.
Initial returns showed incumbent Justice David Prosser locked in a dead heat with challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg in a race that Democrats have tried to turn into a referendum on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's contentious new union rights law.
Kloppenburg's campaign has surged in recent days as her supporters worked to focus anger over the new union law onto the conservative-leaning Prosser. They hope a Kloppenburg victory will tilt the Supreme Court to the left and set the stage for the court to strike down the law.
The law strips most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights. Walker has said the move is needed to help balance the state's budget. Democrats say it's designed to cripple unions, which are among their strongest campaign supporters.
The seven-member high court is officially nonpartisan. But Prosser, who is seeking a second 10-year term, is seen as part of a conservative four-justice majority. Kloppenburg, an assistant state attorney general, has been presented as an alternative that would tilt the court's ideological balance to the left.
Democrats supporting Kloppenburg, who typically would be at a large disadvantage facing an incumbent, have tried to tap into the anger that prompted tens of thousands of protesters to flood Madison as Walker pushed his plan to strip most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights. The law is on hold as legal challenges make their way through the courts — and many expect the state Supreme Court ultimately could decide the issue.