Voter turnout in off-year judicial elections is typically very low - often between 20 and 30 percent, according to Madison-based lobbyist Brian Schimming
. Thanks to the media blitz of the past few weeks, that number could be much higher in this race. Schimming, who previously served as chief of staff to Prosser when he was the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, said he plans to keep his eye on the numbers coming out of Dane County, in particular. If turnout is higher than 50 percent there, Prosser could find himself in serious trouble, Schimming said.
If Prosser Wins
: If Prosser is able to win, it will be a major boost for conservative morale, which has taken a hit in the weeks since Walker introduced his collective bargaining proposal. With a Prosser victory, Walker and his supporters will have withstood the first of many electoral challenges to the new GOP policies coming out of Madison.
Considering the intensity of the opposition, an election win of any margin will represent a political victory for conservatives.
"If he gets reelected it will be in spite of this massive, massive, massive attack, almost an unprecedented attack," Schimming noted.
On the other hand, Prosser's reelection would be a disappointment for the labor movement and its allies, who would have lost their first opportunity to claim a demonstrable rebuke of Walker's agenda.
If Kloppenburg Wins
: If Kloppenburg wins, labor will claim a resounding victory. Democrats would say that the result offered the most definitive proof to date that voters oppose Walker's collective bargaining reforms, and they'd have a compelling case to make: Before the collective bargaining saga riled up the Democratic base, few political observes gave Kloppenburg much of a chance at victory.
The win would also provide a huge boost to the recall campaigns. Democrats reportedly have already collected enough signatures to force one GOP state senator into a recall election
, but continued enthusiasm will be needed to ensure more recall votes and, more importantly, to vote the Republicans out of office.
"The burden now is on the anti-Walker groups to try to keep this alive for months on end to keep these recalls relevant," Schimming said. "I don't care what side you're on, that's hard to do."
But while a Kloppenburg victory will serve as a political blow to Walker, it may not lead to the law being overturned.
Even if Prosser loses, he will remain on the court until August. Many observers expect the challenge to the collective bargaining reform to come before the high court prior to that time, meaning Prosser, not Kloppenburg, would hear the case. The prospect of a lame duck judge who just lost his seat as a result of this controversy ruling on the measure doesn't give anti-Walker forces much optimism.
"If Prosser loses he will not only be a lame duck justice, he's going to be a very angry and bitter justice," Wisconsin-based Democratic strategist John Kraus
And if the high court does strike down the law, that won't mark the end of Republican efforts to curb collective bargaining. The law is being challenged on the premise that GOP lawmakers violated the state's open meeting law when they altered the bill. If the court strikes down the law on those grounds, the GOP-controlled state Senate could simply hold another vote, and they possess the numbers to pass the bill again.
So while tonight's election will not decide the ultimate fate of the curb on collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin's public employees, it will shed light on where the voting public stands on the issue and which side has done a better job of energizing its supporters. And two judicial candidates will find themselves caught in the middle -- innocent bystanders to a larger political battle.