Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson declared in her victory speech tonight that her win proves campaigns "are not an excuse to appeal to dark angels."
Abrahamson, who has been on the court since 1976, said voters made "a choice between a campaign who used labels to try and mislead" and a campaign "that used ideas to bring us together instead of dividing us."
With 56 percent of the precincts in, Abrahamson was pulling 59 percent of the vote over Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick, who had constantly criticized the incumbent as an activist who had sided with criminals more than anyone else on the court.
Abrahamson, 75, noted it was her fourth election victory and said "This time, the result is particularly gratifying."
She noted in the two most recent Supreme Court elections "a concerted effort to reshape the face of the court so it satisfied the expectations of a few against the hopes of many."
Abrahamson had raised more than $1.3 million for her re-election campaign with a little more than two weeks left in the campaign, putting her on pace to challenge the record $1.45 million that Annette Ziegler raised for her 2007 campaign.
While Abrahamson impressed court observers with her fundraising prowess, Koschnick struggled to gain traction on the fundraising front. And unlike conservative candidates in the past two campaigns, no third-party groups stepped forward to run TV ads on his behalf.
Abrahamson dominated the airwaves in the run up to the election with positive ads touting her record, and the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee kicked in a few spots to take shots at Koschnick. The Jefferson County judge got up a small TV buy in the waning days of the campaign.
Koschnick, who watched the returns from his home, told WisPolitics that the fundraising disparity was a significant factor in the outcome. He said he expects the final numbers will show he raised about $180,000 for his campaign and said his showing was respectable considering the difference in how much the two sides raised.
"Money played a major role," Koschnick said. "I think the amount of TV and radio advertising you can do obviously has a significant impact on the outcome."
Koschnick said he plans to run for another term on the Jefferson County in 2011, but he said he was open to another statewide bid down the road, though he wasn't planning on one now.
Conservative Justices David Prosser and Pat Roggensack are up for re-election next in 2011 and 2013, should they choose to run again. Liberal Ann Walsh Bradley faces re-election in 2015.
Koschnick said he didn't know what to expect in terms of third-party support heading into the campaign. But it was difficult to see third-party ads targeting him with "false statements."
"I'm proud of the fact that I ran a clean campaign and didn't have to resort to any type of negative or unfair attacks," Koschnick said.