By Todd Richmond
MADISON— Powered by a surge in Republican turnout for the state’s presidential primary, Rebecca Bradley pushed past heaps of negative publicity over her inflammatory college writings to defeat JoAnne Kloppenburg and win a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Less than a month ago, it appeared Kloppenburg had the momentum after articles that Bradley wrote 20 years ago in college bashing gays, AIDS victims and feminists surfaced. The articles generated plenty of negative headlines, forcing Bradley into apologies on the campaign trail. But Republicans rallied behind her and pushed her to victory Tuesday.
“I hope I’m a little different than (I was) 30 years ago,” said Steve Hanrahan, 62, of Sun Prairie, after he cast his ballot for Bradley.
Bradley issued a brief statement early Wednesday thanking her supporters. She said she was proud that she ran a positive campaign.
Kloppenburg has now lost two bids for the high court in the last five years. The state appellate judge and former assistant attorney general tried unsuccessfully to unseat conservative-leaning Justice David Prosser in 2011. Her campaign manager, Melissa Mulliken, blamed the loss on GOP presidential contenders Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
“It’s not only the quantity of the turnout, it’s also the composition of the turnout,” Mulliken said. “I think that there were probably more voters who came out to vote in the Republican primary and they’re probably more likely to be Rebecca Bradley voters. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump may have decided this race.”
Cruz carried Wisconsin, slowing Trump’s win to the GOP nomination outright.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker appointed Bradley to the high court in October to fill the late Justice Patrick Crooks’ seat. Crooks died in his chambers in September, shortly after announcing he wouldn’t seek re-election. Walker’s appointment marked the third time in three years the governor had handed Bradley a judicial job and gave her the advantage of incumbency heading into the election.
Supreme Court justices are officially nonpartisan, but a bloc of five conservative-leaning justices — counting Bradley — controls the seven-member court. The Bradley-Kloppenburg race wasn’t going to shift the ideological majority, but the contest became a partisan battleground nevertheless.
The conservative organization Wisconsin Alliance for Reform launched an ad blitz against Kloppenburg, spending some $1.54 million as of last week, according to Justice at Stake, a campaign watchdog group.
Liberals painted Bradley as a Walker puppet. The Greater Wisconsin Committee spent at least $345,000 on ads supporting Kloppenburg, Justice at Stake said.
Liberal attack group One Wisconsin Now landed the biggest blow against Bradley, exposing volatile opinion pieces she wrote as a college student for the Marquette Tribune in 1992. She compared homosexuals to drug addicts, saying they kill themselves with their own behavior and said people were better off getting AIDS than cancer because people with the “politically correct disease” would get more money. She also compared abortion to the Holocaust, blasted the feminist movement and agreed with a critic that women are partially responsible for date rape.
Bradley, now 44, apologized repeatedly at campaign appearances and insisted her views have changed.