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Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly outraises rivals as he gets nod from Donald Trump
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Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly outraises rivals as he gets nod from Donald Trump

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Conservative-backed Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly raised more than double the amount of liberal-backed opponent Jill Karofsky in the last half of 2019, and he garnered President Donald Trump’s endorsement at a rally Tuesday evening.

As the state nears the Feb. 18 primary, preliminary reports show Kelly raised $556,184, compared with $227,553 for Karofsky, a Dane County Circuit Court judge. The other liberal-supported candidate in the race, Marquette Law School professor Ed Fallone, hasn’t yet provided detailed fundraising figures for the last half of the year, but his campaign says he raised $150,000 during all of 2019.

Fundraising numbers are important because they can give an indication of general support and a campaign’s organizing ability.

Kelly also reported spending $221,700 to end the period between July and December with $572,968 in available cash. Karofsky during that same time spent $157,190 and ended the year with $181,274.

Kelly, who was appointed to the court by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2016, will compete against Karofsky and Fallone in a February primary. The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election in April, which coincides with the presidential primary in which Democrats could still have a competitive race and Republicans will not. The likely boost in Democratic turnout in April could end up benefiting a liberal-backed Supreme Court candidate.

Trump’s endorsement of Kelly Tuesday evening serves to highlight the increasingly partisan nature of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court races. Kelly’s liberal-backed opponents quickly slammed the endorsement. Karofsky’s campaign posted on Twitter, arguing Republicans want Kelly to win the election “so they can rig the election this fall.”

While Supreme Court races remain technically nonpartisan, the Democratic and Republican parties provide organizational and monetary support to their preferred candidates, and third-party partisan interest groups typically spend significant sums to sway elections as well.

Some Supreme Court candidates and observers have lamented the partisan nature of Supreme Court campaigns, arguing that they compromise justice. Karofsky, for example, has repeatedly claimed Kelly is “corrupt” for typically siding with Republican interests in cases of a political nature. Kelly has denied such claims.

Nevertheless, political support for justices can come with certain expectations.

Earlier this week, conservative-backed Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn, whom Trump congratulated when he won election last year, received pushback from conservative radio host Jay Weber for his decision to side with the court’s liberal-backed justices and deny a request to bypass a lower court and immediately take up the state’s controversial voter purge case.

“It is probably only a temporary setback, but Judge Brian Hagedorn owes the people who put him on the bench an explanation as to why his first act was to screw them over and side with liberals against taking up the voter rolls case early,” Weber wrote on Twitter. “He’s invited to come on my show to do it.”

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