Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Wisconsin Heads to the Polls Next Week

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Wisconsin.

The Badger State will vote for two important, non-partisan, state offices on Tuesday, April 7th - the State Supreme Court and State Superintendent.

State Supreme Court
The typical issues of crime and excessive lawsuits have come up recently in the race for state Supreme Court. While these issues have done well to elect conservative judges to the high court recently, it may not be as relevant this time around.

As we mentioned in a post in early February, the state’s business lobby - Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce - has decided to stay out of the race. So far they have certainly kept their word.

Unlike in years past - where conservative Supreme Court candidates won almost entirely because of WMC support - conservative judge Randy Koschnick faces an uphill battle against incumbent Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. Koschnick trails Abrahamson by considerable margins in campaign money and no third-party group has come to assist him.

Nonetheless, Koschnick remains optimistic. He says that because more than 4 in 10 likely voters are undecided he has a real chance knocking off the incumbent. But local political scientists disagree.

"In Wisconsin Supreme Court races, there is a large incumbency effect," said UW-Madison professor Katherine Cramer Walsh. "People don't follow the doings of the state Supreme Court."

Charles Franklin, a UW-Madison professor and co-founder of the Internet site www.pollster.com, was also hard-pressed to explain Koschnick's optimism.

"Challengers in nonpartisan spring elections face a huge problem gaining enough visibility and name recognition to mount an effective challenge," Franklin said. "To do so, they need large amounts of money, or the backing of powerful interests who advertise independently."

In an independent poll taken late last month, Abrahamson led Koschnick 41% to 13%. And since then Abrahamson has ramped up the campaign with ad-buys, where as Koschnick has suffered the consequences of poor fundraising and been unable to get on TV.

Even if Koschnick were to build name-recognition now it would likely be too late. Most of the time, the voters that wait until the final few days before the election to make their choice end up splitting their support about 50-50. Mathematically, Koschnick is almost entirely unable to win.

State Superintendent
It has become a heated race between the current deputy State Superintendent, Tony Evers, and the self-proclaimed outsider, Rose Fernandez.

Fernandez recently attacked Evers for an email exchange between him and a school administrator in Green Bay regarding a fundraising event. Jeff Dickert, the school administrator, did not realize it is illegal to use a state email account to discuss political fundraising. Fernandez called it a “win-at-all-cost mentality” that sets a poor example for Wisconsin schoolchildren.

Evers then countered with a press release from State Rep. Don Pridemore's office which called Evers “a bad choice to lead Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction.” Evers' campaign manager Peter Knudsen said he did not have any evidence that Fernandez was involved, but “that's what we'd like to know.”

But the biggest issue in the race appears to be the involvement of WEAC - the state’s teachers union - which supports Evers. WEAC’s PAC has spent a total $574,000 on the race so far. Fernandez - who is running as the candidate of change to emulate the success of the Obama message, despite being the conservative candidate in the race - has attacked the union as a principle source of failure in the Wisconsin education system.

So who is more likely to win?

It’s a tough question - there is evidence for victory on both sides.

Evers has the support of WEAC which not only helps him financially, but WEAC is organized and can get teachers to the polls. There are already reports of calls to members telling them to vote early for Evers, and the calls can be expected to increase come GOTV weekend. There is no counter-WEAC group organized enough to give the same meaningful support to Fernandez.

Fernandez does, however, have plenty of support. She trailed Evers in the primary by only 4 points, and actually beat him in Milwaukee. Additionally, there are rumors that internal WEAC polling shows Fernandez ahead going into the general election.

For both races, we’ll know for sure a week from tonight.

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