April 5, 2011- The race between a conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and a little-known challenger fueled by a wave of anger over the state's divisive new union rights law was too close to call early Wednesday morning.
Unofficial returns from Tuesday's election showed Justice David Prosser and his opponent, JoAnne Kloppenburg, were separated by fewer than 600 votes with 99 percent of precincts reporting. The contest was close enough that a recount appeared likely.
Under Wisconsin election law, a candidate has three days after the official results have been tallied to request a recount. The candidate must specify a reason for the request, such as a belief a mistake was made in the counting or some other irregularity.
An assistant state attorney general, Kloppenburg began her campaign with almost no name recognition and faced what looked like an uphill fight against Prosser.
But her campaign has surged in recent days as her supporters worked to focus anger over Republican Gov. Scott Walker's divisive collective bargaining law onto the conservative-leaning Prosser. The law's opponents hope a Kloppenburg victory will tilt the Supreme Court to the left and set the stage for the court to strike down the law. Election officials in Madison and Milwaukee have noted higher voter interest in what would have been an otherwise sleepy contest.
The measure 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, and tens of thousands of people spent weeks at the state Capitol protesting the plan.
The law eventually passed, but is on hold as legal challenges make their way through the courts. Many expect the state Supreme Court ultimately will decide the issue.
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's allies have presented her as an alternative that would tilt the court's ideological balance to the left.
Prosser has told The Associated Press he doesn't necessarily agree with the law. Still, bitter Democrats have portrayed him as a Walker clone, helping Kloppenburg's campaign gain traction over the last few weeks.