(midday iPhone update: looks like Kloppenburg will win the pre-recount vote. I stand by the post below, as I think Colon lost an opportunity t do something for a good candidate, and for his own team)
So many caveats before I get into the post! First, as I write this, Justice David Prosser holds a scant 580-some vote lead over JoAnne Kloppenburg. By the time all the counting and recounting is done, the title question here may well be moot. In any case, the race was never supposed to be that close.
It was also a race that was never supposed to be all that heated. For as tense as the last couple of court races have been, Prosser actually was a relatively moderate and (judicially) mild jurist, and Kloppenberg was the mild-mannered and moderate anti-Prosser candidate (recall that the state Democrats pushed Marla Stephens hard in the primary). Circumstances pushed the campaigns, if not the candidates themselves, to extremes. Despite both candidates' having taken public financing (and, therefore, no contributions to their campaigns), this was the single-most expensive court race in the history of the state because it was imbued from outside with so much additional significance.
Which is why the message has been sent, regardless of where the final vote tally ends up. Kloppenburg went from out of nowhere to neck-and-neck, for one reason and one reason only--Republican overreach in Madison lately. Current-Governor Scott Walker's hand-picked successor fell in Milwaukee County, as well. It's hard not to see the night as a defeat, though not a crushing one, for Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature.
And, the last caveat, I love Pedro Colón. Way back when I first got started in Wisconsin politics, Colón was one of the few people willing to take that old Howard Dean Meetup group seriously, and work with us (remember Meetup? No? It was the Twitter of 2003). He's a good guy, literal history maker, and a solid member of the liberal community.
But I'm sitting here with the mailer I got from Colón this week, and right there at the top of the list of his endorsements is David Prosser. And on Prosser's website sits Colón's endorsement of the Justice. Prosser's judicial record is still "under construction" (with apologies to Nick Schweitzer for stealing his bit), but the endorsements page is up-to-date. I believe I read that former Governor Pat Lucey's name was off that list within a half hour of Lucey's switching to Kloppenburg.
So here's where my question comes in: No doubt, Colón and Prosser traded endorsements six or eight months ago when none of this mattered, when no one expected in a million years that so very much would be riding on this race and that the outcome would affect not just the composition of the court but potentially the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of public employees (myself included) and the course of action taken by legislative Republicans in dealing with Scott Walker. Whenever it was that Colón's people called Prosser's people and put that deal together, no one could have predicted the Recent Unpleasantness.
That doesn't mean, though, that once it was clear what was going on that Colón didn't have an opportunity--nay, a responsibility--to, as Lucey did, say Waitaminnit. He could have easily said, You know, things change, and my conscience is telling me that I need to change, too. Lucey, really, was his way out, first one through the door, if you will. Had Colón publicly and forcefully withdrawn his Prosser endorsement it would have been good press, and not only might we be talking this morning about Justice-elect Kloppenburg, but Colón's margin could have been a lot greater over (also good guy who deserved a win) Chris Lipscomb.
Obviously, there's no way to know. I do feel confident that a late announcement from Colón switching his support, and urging his voters to do the same, would have been worth some votes. How many, and whether any additional voters would have zagged to Colón's zig (What? That librul is supportin' Kloppenburg now? Prosser it is!) is not something we can ever be sure of. But this is the question that should hang over any 2011 court race retrospection: Could Colón have made the difference?