When Rebecca Dallet soundly defeated Michael Screnock in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election last week, it gained national attention for yet another swell of the Blue Wave, or the anticipated enthusiasm and success surrounding Democratic candidates in this year’s elections. To say Dallet is a Democratic harbinger standing atop the Blue Wave is to disregard the primary election and exaggerate the usefulness in predicting this year’s elections.
In the days since the election, state and national media have labeled Dallet as the liberal in the race, but there is little mention of Tim Burns, the Madison attorney who ran on a platform of being the Democratic candidate.
In one of Burns’ television ads during the primary race, “Tim Burns (D)” splashed across the screen. In a debate, he called himself the “unshakeable champion of liberal, Democratic and progressive values.”
Meanwhile, in 2013, Dallet endorsed the court’s conservative chief justice Patience Roggensack, breaking from the party that has since dragged her into their ranks.
Of course Dallet has her hard-left ties. Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General under President Barack Obama, stumped for Dallet in the weeks leading up to the race. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee spent $165,000 in support of Dallet. She had the support of unions and pro-choice groups. But many of those groups joined Dallet only after Burns lost the primary.
Screnock came out as the Republican candidate, mostly due to support from explicitly partisan groups. The Republican Party of Wisconsin was Screnock’s top donor, putting $278,000 into his campaign.
But during debates, Dallet and Burns attacked each other more frequently and Screnock let them, probably enjoying the negative attention his opposition brought to themselves.
A true Blue Wave on the horizon would have been a victory from Burns. Instead, he got just 18 percent of the primary vote.
In determining whether the election is another point for Blue Wave theorists, it is important to distinguish between Democratic enthusiasm and anti-Republican sentiment. This race did not show support for Burns, the truly Democratic candidate. Maybe it did reveal an anti-Republican sentiment that will impact the midterm elections, but in this case, we ended up with the most moderate of three candidates.
And a little more moderation in our political lives isn’t such a bad thing.