(CNN) CNN projected Tuesday that liberal Janet Protasevich and conservative Daniel Kelly will run in the general election for a pivotal seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The nonpartisan primary pitted two liberals and two conservatives in a costly, high-stakes contest to effectively break the deadlock between the state’s Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled legislature in a key battleground state.
Protasevich, a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge, and Kelly, a former state Supreme Court justice, will now face off in the April 4 general election for a seat on a court where conservatives currently hold a 4-3 majority. Although there were no party designations on the ballot, interest groups sided, party operations were mobilized and money poured into the race as if it were a partisan campaign.
The departure of conservative justice Patience Roginsak gave liberals a chance to grab a majority in a court that can decide issues like abortion, redistricting and voting rights before the 2024 presidential election.
Conservatives controlled the state Supreme Court for 14 years — a period during which the court sided with Republican efforts to bust unions and affirmed voting restrictions, including ID requirements and a ban on ballot boxes.
“This seat is critical to the balance of the court, and the court is critical to the balance of the state,” said Barry Borden, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Center for Elections Research.
Other candidates in Tuesday’s primary are Jennifer Durow, a judge perhaps best known for presiding over the trial of a man convicted of killing six and wounding dozens in the 2021 attack on the Waukesha Christmas Parade, and Everett Mitchell, a liberal constituency. Dane County Judge.
Outside money flooded the race. As of Thursday afternoon, orders for television and radio ads focused on the race totaled $7 million, according to the announcement tracked by Kantar Media/CMAG for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Experts say spending on the race could beat the previous record — $15.2 million spent on the 2004 Illinois Supreme Court race, according to the liberal Brennan Center — for the most expensive campaign for a single Supreme Court seat in the state.
The court could become the final arbiter on a host of crucial cases in Wisconsin in the coming years — including the fate of the state’s 1849 law banning abortion in nearly all cases. The US Supreme Court’s decision last summer to end federal legal protections for the procedure has intensified the rhetoric – and spending – about abortion in the Wisconsin race.
The state supreme court could also play a crucial role in the 2024 election. Wisconsin was a key site of former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn his loss in 2020, and a conservative state supreme court judge’s refusal to go along with an attempt that year to nullify votes in two heavily Democratic counties looms large. . Rivalry between right-leaning candidates in this year’s race.
This story has been updated with a CNN drop.