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Republicans warned of 'blue wave' after liberal wins Wisconsin court race

President Donald Trump won the state by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, but Rebecca Dallet triumphed by double digits Tuesday.
by Associated Press /  / Updated 
Image: Rebecca Dallet
Rebecca Dallet.Scott Bauer / AP file

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MADISON, Wis. — Liberal judge Rebecca Dallet's runaway victory in a Wisconsin Supreme Court race cheered Democrats eager for more evidence their party is ready for a winning fall in midterm elections.

And Dallet's hammering of conservative judge Michael Screnock on Tuesday prodded Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who had endorsed Screnock, to warn his fellow Republicans that more losses could be coming.

"Tonight's results show we are at risk of a #BlueWave in WI," Walker, who is up for re-election in November, tweeted. "Big government special interests flooded Wisconsin with distorted facts & misinformation. Next, they'll target me and work to undo our bold reforms."

President Donald Trump won the state by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, while Dallet thumped Screnock by double digits.

Dallet won by nearly 12 points with unofficial results nearly complete.

Although the race was viewed by some as a bellwether, results of past Supreme Court elections have not consistently proven to be predictive of what will happen in November.

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairwoman Martha Laning said the win was a warning shot to Walker, calling it a "huge loss" for him because his "endorsement, philosophy and politics were on the ballot."

One of the Democratic challengers to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, immediately tried to raise money off the Dallet win. Randy Bryce called the result "a rallying cry for working folks."

Dallet's victory follows a surprising Democratic win in January in a special election for a state Senate seat held by Republicans for 17 years — an outcome that Walker said then was a "wake-up call" for his party.

Two other special legislative elections are coming this June, giving Democrats more chances to build momentum heading into the fall.

The race for a 10-year seat on the court was nonpartisan in name only, with millions in ad spending and public endorsements from the likes of Joe Biden, Eric Holder and the National Rifle Association.

Dallet said her victory, which Democrats quickly seized on as another sign of momentum, was a rejection of special interest influence on Wisconsin's Supreme Court.

"The candidate with the most experience in our courts and standing up for the fairness of our courts won," she said. "I think people are tired of what's been going on in our state in terms of the money coming in to buy these elections and people spoke out tonight."

Screnock said he was proud of his campaign, in the face of "tremendous outside influence from liberal special interest groups that were willing to say and spend anything to elect their preferred candidate to the bench."

Screnock, a Sauk County circuit judge, was endorsed by Walker and backed by about $400,000 from the state GOP.

Dallet's victory narrows conservative control of the court from 5-2 to 4-3. She also will become the sixth woman on the court. And it's the first time a liberal candidate has won a race for an open seat on the court since 1995. The court has been a reliable ally of Walker and Republicans who have controlled the governor's office and Legislature since 2011.

Dallet, 48, has been a Milwaukee County circuit judge since 2008 and previously worked 11 years as a prosecutor. She will join the court in August.

Screnock, 48, was appointed judge by Walker in 2015. Before that he was part of a team that defended Walker's Act 10 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.

Both candidates argued the other couldn't be trusted to serve as an independent voice on the state's highest court because of the partisans supporting their campaigns.

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