It was a statewide race that only the nerdiest of political nerds were following at the national level, but suffice it to say that we'd be hearing a lot about it if the expected outcome had come to pass. By way of background, Wisconsin's Supreme Court has been decidedly conservative for years, but when a liberal justice won a resounding 12-point victory last fall (Badger State voters choose Supreme Court members in nominally "non-partisan" elections), the Left immediately set it sights on the 2019 contest. If a left-leaning candidate had defeated another right-leaning jurist -- as was widely anticipated by political experts -- liberals believed they'd have a very real shot at wresting ideological control of the state's high court in 2020. But a funny thing happened on the way to that liberal judicial renaissance. Voters intervened:
Appeals Judge Brian Hagedorn held a narrow lead early Wednesday in the race for Wisconsin Supreme Court, according to unofficial tallies that were so close both sides were bracing for a recount. In an early morning tweet and statement to supporters, Hagedorn claimed victory. "The people of Wisconsin have spoken and our margin of victory is insurmountable," the statement read...Hagedorn led fellow Appeals Judge Lisa Neubauer 50.2% to 49.8% with nearly all of Tuesday's votes unofficially counted — at a margin that allows a recount. A win by Hagedorn would defy the predictions of prominent groups that typically back conservative judicial candidates but counted him out and wouldn't spend on his behalf during the race.
Hagedorn, the conservative, was seen as such a long-shot underdog that some deep-pocketed conservative groups decided not to spend money in the race, resulting in a large disparity that favored the left-wing message machine. But a concerted push by grassroots activists, and an eleventh-hour blitz by former Governor Scott Walker, helped secure what appears to be a major upset. Conservative groups closed the race with an ad reminding voters of the Kavanaugh fight, while liberal organizations (like Eric Holder's) tried to tie their opponent to President Trump. Also, you night think that Hillary Clinton's 2016 loss would've helped Democrats internalize the lesson that, contra their own talking points and hilarious posturing, money does not necessarily "buy" elections. This outcome should reinforce that reality:
This isn't "sort of a big deal," it's huge! Republicans were out spent 3 to 1 in the race by a conglomeration of liberal groups and @judgehagedorn's victory ensures a conservative majority on the court through at least 2023. https://t.co/TtTzKbzgSA— Republican State Leadership Committee (@RSLC) April 3, 2019
The spending ratio is a big detail, but so it that piece of information about keeping Wisconsin's high court in conservative hands for at least the next four years. As we know, liberals tend to make all sorts of excuses for their defeats, blaming the system and demanding "reforms" to the institutions that "failed" them. We've already dispensed with the "money in politics explanation," but what about the typical "low turnout helps conservatives" complaint? Nope:
Impressive turnout gains. 2018 Supreme Court race turnout was 997485 but tonight will be over 1,159,000, at least a 16% increase. And 2018 was best since 2011’s 1,500,113 (omitting 2016 which was also pres primary at 1,953,147)— Charles Franklin (@PollsAndVotes) April 3, 2019
Conservative writer, longtime talk radio host, and fierce Trump critic Charlie Sykes says this result is a significant blow to the Left in his state, noting that the conservative base is once again fired up:
GOP pol texts me: “The base is awake”.... reacting to what they see as Dem overreach in WI... https://t.co/3SSZcFTS0I— Charlie Sykes (@SykesCharlie) April 3, 2019
This—> 1. Backlash against Dane County judges 2. Religious conservatives mobilized 3. Blowback from Evers moves.... 4. WI back to purple. https://t.co/RbW2KdniXW— Charlie Sykes (@SykesCharlie) April 3, 2019
Hagedorn was painted as a religious zealot, with all the normal parade of horribles and "isms" hurled at him. While I disagree with a number of his previously-stated views, characterizing his orthodox Christian faith as bigotry is the sort of overreach that turns people off, and energized elements of the Right. The conventional wisdom was that he would lose handily. The conventional wisdom was wrong. Wisconsin is a very swingy swing state these days -- and unlike the last presidential cycle, Democrats will apply a full-court press to paint it blue next fall. Last night's result, pending a likely recount (analysts seem to think Hagedorn's ~6,000 vote margin is pretty solid), is a timely reminder that they'll have their work cut in order to do so. With Walker and other conservatives taking a victory lap, some liberals are venting frustration:
what's frustrating is for all the immense attn to what presidential candidates & only presidential candidates think about every issue, none of that is passing if you don't get better congressional maps, which takes winning elections like today's Supreme Court race in Wisconsin.— Taniel (@Taniel) April 3, 2019
I'll leave you with a slice of better news for Democrats, from another midwestern state:
A Democrat won a state Senate seat in a Pennsylvania district Pres. Trump won by 6, in Pittsburgh suburb. First Dem special election win of 2019 (Repubs have flipped 4 Den-Held seats) https://t.co/NM348QumPV— Reid Wilson (@PoliticsReid) April 3, 2019
A "Biden-style" Democrat won a Trump-carried Pennsylvania Senate seat, marking the only red-to-blue state legislative gain of the year. As Wilson notes, and as we've covered, the previous four flips went in the opposite direction.