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Impact of Bradley’s student columns rests with undecideds

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley has gone from embarrassed to apologetic to angry as opponents dredged up opinion pieces from her college days railing against homosexual AIDS victims, Bill Clinton supporters and abortion.

As she vies for a full 10-year term on the court in the April 5 election, those writings of 24 years ago are unlikely to erode her existing support. But they could have some impact on voters who know little of either candidate — or don’t even know there’s a Supreme Court race going on.

A Marquette Law School poll in February found 60 percent of registered voters didn’t know or hadn’t heard enough to form an opinion on Bradley, and about the same had no opinion on her opponent, Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg.

“Most voters will be forming views of these candidates for the first time between now and April 5,” said Charles Franklin, director of the poll. He said that means it’s critical how well each campaign harnesses or reacts to the issue.

But University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Ryan Owens said he doesn’t think it will sway many people’s decisions in the state’s highly partisan landscape, unless comments continue to trickle out in the coming weeks.

“I think the climate right now is just so toxic that people who were going to vote against her just solidified in that position,” Owens said. Those who supported her will continue to do so, he said.

The race is officially nonpartisan, but clearly split on ideological lines. Liberals largely back Kloppenburg, while conservatives support Bradley, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Republican Gov. Scott Walker in October.

Bradley has spent almost every day apologizing for the college opinion pieces since liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now brought them to light on Monday. In one letter to the editor for Marquette University’s student newspaper, she wrote that homosexual and drug-addicted AIDS victims “basically commit suicide through their behavior” and don’t deserve her sympathy. In another column, she wrote people are better off contracting AIDS than cancer, because those with the “politically correct” disease would get more funding. Bradley declined an interview, but she has said this past week a “mosaic of life experiences” has changed her views since 1992.

Devin Gatton, president of conservative gay-rights group Log Cabin Republicans, said when he first saw the writings he thought they were disgusting.

But he said what he’s learned about Bradley in the days since has convinced him she’s changed. She attended a 2013 fundraiser for gay-rights group FAIR Wisconsin. Her campaign says she’s presided over adoptions to gay couples. And Gatton says she gave him a “satisfactory” answer on gay marriage — that she would follow the Constitution.

“Every politician apologizes,” Gatton said. “It’s the things she’s done since then.”

But FAIR Wisconsin Executive Director Megin McDonell said it would take a lot more than attending a fundraiser to convince her Bradley’s had “some kind of radical transformation” since those writings.

“People can change, definitely, people can change,” McDonell said. “But I can’t really say that I’m convinced at this point.”

Steve Starkey, executive director of LGBT community center OutReach, likewise said he hasn’t seen sufficient evidence.

“So far, the apologies have been kind of empty,” Starkey said.

Owens, the professor, said voters overall tend to see statements made a long time ago for what they are — an immature student caught up in a political wave.

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