A long-time assistant attorney general will try to unseat state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in April's elections.
JoAnne Kloppenburg and Prosser were easily the top two vote-getters in Tuesday's four-way primary. They will advance to the April 5 general election. The winner gets a 10-year term on the court.
With 66 percent of precincts reporting, Prosser had 51 percent of the vote. Kloppenburg had 28 percent. Public defender Marla Stephens had 11 percent and family law attorney Joel Winnig had 10 percent.
The general election campaign will pit the liberal-leaning Kloppenburg, a 22-year state Justice Department prosecutor, against the conservative-leaning Prosser, a 12-year justice and a former Republican legislator.
The ideological tilt of the court hangs in the balance. The seven justices are officially nonpartisan, but they've still divided themselves into conservative and liberal factions that bicker constantly.
Prosser is part of the current four-justice conservative majority. A Kloppenburg victory in April would shift control of the court to the liberal bloc, which would affect how the court rules on a wide range of cases.
The other factor at play in the general election is special interest groups. Outside groups have poured millions into recent Supreme Court races, raising questions about their influence on the justices.
Both Prosser and Kloppenburg have accepted public campaign financing in an effort to avoid those questions.
Prosser said Tuesday night he likes where he stands. Wisconsin voters realize he's done a good job, he said.
"I've worked hard for 12 years," he said. "People have heard me speak and watched me handle cases. They like what I've done."
Kloppenburg said people voted for her because they believe she will be impartial and they want a court that isn't divided by abrasive personalities.
She promised a positive campaign, but attacked Prosser immediately Tuesday for accepting special interest help during the primary. The conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth ran an ad promoting Prosser.
"What's at stake in this election is a return to an impartial and independent Supreme Court," she said. "I am ready to take them (special interests) on and I will have the people of Wisconsin behind me."
Prosser said he's not surprised Kloppenburg is on the offensive already.
"She would have to say something negative," Prosser said, "because she doesn't have anywhere near the as many votes as I do."