MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Rebecca Dallet touted her liberal support and warned backers at a San Francisco fundraiser this week that an onslaught of spending by conservative groups was coming in the waning days of her race against Michael Screnock.
“I know that your values are our Wisconsin values that we’ve lost along the way,” Dallet said in audio from the event Monday night circulated Wednesday by the Wisconsin Republican Party, which supports Screnock.
Dallet, a Milwaukee County circuit judge, and Screnock, a Sauk County circuit judge, face off April 3 for an open seat on the court with the winner being elected to a 10-year term. The race is officially nonpartisan, but conservatives have lined up behind Screnock while liberals are backing Dallet.
Screnock campaign adviser Sean Lansing said her comments show that “when she talks about ‘Wisconsin Values’ it is really just code for liberal activist policies.”
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Dallet told California backers that she was supported by Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and noted that her race could be a good harbinger for liberals looking to defeat Republican Gov. Scott Walker and House Speaker Paul Ryan in the fall.
“We really set the stage with my race,” Dallet said.
The invitation for the fundraiser noted that Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race is the first statewide general election contest in the country and provides a chance “to prove that elections cannot be bought by special interests.” Organizers called a Dallet victory a “critical first step in proving our values can prevail in swing states across the country.”
Dallet also criticized conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch noting that Screnock’s top campaign aides formerly worked for the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, a group that backs Republicans.
Wisconsin Republican Party executive director Mark Morgan accused Dallet of trying to “appease far-left donors in San Francisco.”
“Wisconsin deserves a Supreme Court Justice who will defend the impartiality of our courts, not a liberal activist judge who will legislate from the bench and pander to the far-left,” Morgan said.
While he attacked Dallet as a partisan, the Republican Party has been playing up Screnock’s endorsement by Walker. The party sent a mailing to voters calling Screnock a defender of conservative values. It featured a picture of Screnock and Walker side-by-side with their arms around one another.
Both Dallet and Screnock launched new television ads this week, roughly two weeks before the election. In Screnock’s ad, released Wednesday, he touts his support from Wisconsin sheriffs, professes his support for the Constitution and rule of law, and ends by playing a few notes on the tuba. Screnock played tuba in the University of Wisconsin marching band in the 1980s.
The ad stands in contrast to one from Dallet, released Monday, where she accused Screnock of giving lenient sentences to a rapist and child predator.
There has yet to be a late advertising push from outside groups like another state Supreme Court contest two years ago.
In that race, won by conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley, the conservative Wisconsin Alliance for Reform spent $2.6 million to help her, based on a tally by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign which tracks campaign spending.
That was more than triple the $710,000 spent by the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee to help her liberal opponent, state Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg.
In the primary, Screnock benefited from about $800,000 in outside spending — about $588,000 of which came from the state’s business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. The state Republican Party has also given Screnock more than $142,000 in in-kind contributions for digital ads, staff and direct mail.
Dallet has benefited from about $140,000 in spending by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group formed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to help Democratic candidates and push for redistricting reform. Holder held events in Madison and Milwaukee last week where he talked up Dallet’s candidacy.
Dallet said at the California fundraiser that she didn’t expect her side to be able to compete with the money coming from conservatives.
“We’re never going to have as much money, that’s fine,” Dallet said. “We’ve got people and an energized base in Wisconsin and across the country.”
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sbauerAP