When Wisconsin voters went to the polls this week, the bulk of the attention was directed at the presidential primaries, with both parties hosting competitive contests. But as Rachel noted on the show on Monday and Tuesday, there was another contest on the ballot that was worth watching closely.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) appointed Rebecca Bradley, a far-right jurist, to the state Supreme Court, and it was up to voters to decide whether to give her a full term. Despite her record of extremist views and rhetoric, Bradley prevailed over her rival, JoAnne Kloppenburg, who was supported by Democrats and Wisconsin unions in a race that was technically non-partisan.
So what went wrong for the left? The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel published an interesting report today on an important analysis of the election results.
Bradley won the election, a surprise to Democrats. This morning, some progressives picked a culprit: voters who cast ballots for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and left the rest of their ballots blank. According to exit polling conducted by the independent group DecisionDesk and BenchMark Politics, perhaps 15 percent of Sanders voters skipped the Bradley-Kloppenburg race; just 4 percent of Hillary Clinton voters did the same.“There was an enormous drop-off,” said Brandon Finnigin of DecisionDesk. “There was a substantial number of voters in that voted for Sanders, then for nothing else.”
It’s important to emphasize that while Sanders has been criticized for raising money for himself, and not for other candidates, Democratic campaign committees, or state parties, he did endorse Kloppenburg over Bradley. Hillary Clinton also focused attention on the state Supreme Court fight, telling a Milwaukee audience over the weekend, “There is no place on any Supreme Court or any court in this country, no place at all for Rebecca Bradley’s decades-long track record of dangerous rhetoric against women, survivors of sexual assault and the LGBT community.”
But in the larger context, the fact that so many Sanders supporters showed up to vote for him, but not other like-minded candidates, reinforces Democratic concerns about the senator’s electoral role. As Weigel’s report added, many Dems are now arguing that Clinton “is investing in the Democratic Party’s success,” while “Sanders, far from a revolution, has built a personal following but little else.”
It dovetails with our discussion from Tuesday: when it came to fundraising in March, Sanders easily outpaced Clinton, but the Democratic frontrunner emphasized that she spent time raising “an additional $6.1 million for the DNC and state parties during the month of March, bringing the total for the quarter to about $15 million.” Sanders, to date, hasn’t raised any money at all for other Democrats, and isn’t yet prepared to commit to helping other candidates in the future.
The pitch from the Sanders campaign has long been that down-ballot Democrats will necessarily benefit in the end: with so many progressives showing up to support the Vermont senator, they’ll end up helping Democrats in other races at the same time. This week in Wisconsin suggests the argument isn’t necessarily true, at least not at this stage in the race.
It’s a detail I suspect many party superdelegates will notice.