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Supreme Court Hearing file photo

The Wisconsin Supreme Court listens to oral arguments in this file photo.

JOHN HART – State Journal

Justice Patience Roggensack outspent her challengers in this year’s primary for the Wisconsin Supreme Court by an overwhelming margin, and her first-place finish in the primary reflected that.

Roggensack spent around $240,000 compared with $80,000 for the second-place finisher, Marquette University law professor Ed Fallone, who will face the controversial incumbent April 2.

Consumer lawyer Vince Megna finished third, after running a spirited and good-humored campaign. He’s now backing Fallone, and he is right to do so.

Fallone is the preferable candidate. And he can win in April. Low-turnout primaries of the sort that was held Tuesday provide signals, but the electoral history of Wisconsin is quite clear on the point that second-place finishers in nonpartisan primaries can and do close the gap in April. In 2011, Justice David Prosser beat his challenger, then Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, by a 55-25 margin in the primary. In April, the two wrestled to a virtual tie, with Kloppenburg initially being pegged as the winner, before adjusted figures from Waukesha County and a recount gave the race to Prosser by 7,006 votes.

Statewide, Roggensack’s 3-1 spending advantage could only buy her a 2-1 win in a very low-turnout primary. That’s very similar to Prosser’s primary advantage over Kloppenburg.

No doubt, 2013 is different from 2011, just as Roggensack and Fallone are different from Prosser and Kloppenburg. But the fundamental concerns about the court are, if anything, heightened. And this is Fallone’s focus; he wants to dial down the tensions on the court that have been fostered by Prosser and Roggensack, and to restore its nonpartisan character.

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That’s an appealing message and, notably, where both candidates had significant exposure, Fallone ran best.

That was the case in Dane County. Despite the fact that Roggensack is from the Madison area, Fallone beat the incumbent in Dane County by 10,000 votes, for a 60-34 margin.

Fallone says that as voters focus on the race, he will close the gap. We agree.

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