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Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Too Close To Call

Unofficial Results Showed Hagedorn Leading By About 5,800 Votes

Neubauer and Hagedorn headshots
Judge Lisa Neubauer, left, and Judge Brian Hagedorn. Scott Bauer/AP Photo/Wisconsin Public Television

The race for Wisconsin Supreme Court was too close to call Wednesday morning, with a razor-thin margin separating liberal-backed Judge Lisa Neubauer and conservative-backed Judge Brian Hagedorn.

As of 6:30 a.m., Hagedorn was leading by less than 1 percent, according to unofficial results reported by The Associated Press. They were separated by 5,801 votes, out of more than 1.1 million cast.

Neubauer’s campaign ended its official event at around 11 p.m. Tuesday night, saying the race was too close to be decided on election night.

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“We are almost assuredly headed to a recount,” said Neubauer’s campaign manager, Tyler Hendricks. “We are going to make sure every vote is counted. Wisconsinites deserve to know we have had a fair election and that every vote is counted.”

But Hagedorn’s campaign issued a statement shortly after 2:00 a.m. declaring victory.

“The people of Wisconsin have spoken, and our margin of victory is insurmountable,” the statement said.

Wisconsin law allows for a recount if the margin of victory is less than one percent.

The judges, who both sit on the District 2 Court of Appeals, are vying for a 10-year term on the state’s highest court. The winner will replace longtime Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who announced last May she would retire after more than 40 years on the court.

Throughout their campaigns, both candidates vowed to serve as impartial justices on the court while pointing fingers at their opponent’s partisan affiliations and potential biases.

Neubauer has been the chief judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals since 2015. She was appointed to the court in 2007 by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Her daughter, Greta Neubauer, is a Democratic state representative from Racine.

State Rep. Greta Neubauer, daughter of Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Lisa Neubauer, announced the race is too close to call on Tuesday night. Corri Hess/WPR

Neubauer received substantial financial support from liberal groups, including the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is headed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Hagedorn has strong ties to former Gov. Scott Walker, having served as the former governor’s chief legal counsel from 2011 until 2015 when Walker appointed him to an open seat on the Court of Appeals.

Hagedorn came under fire during the campaign for blog posts he wrote in 2005, when he was a law student at Northwestern University. The posts compared homosexuality to bestiality and called Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization.”

He was also criticized for his position on the board of directors and role in founding the Augustine Academy, a private Christian school in Delafield where the code of conduct prohibits teachers, students and parents from participating in homosexual activity.

Hagedorn received support from Americans for Prosperity. However, a number of prominent business groups stayed out of the race, including the Wisconsin Realtors Association, which pulled its endorsement after the blog posts surfaced.

The court currently has a 4-3 conservative majority. A win by Hagedorn would expand that to a 5-2 conservative majority.

A win from Neubauer would maintain the status quo, but set the stage for a winner-takes-all contest one year from now when Justice Daniel Kelly faces his first election. Kelly, who is part of the court’s conservative block, was appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2016.

The winner will be sworn into a 10-year term after Abrahamson leaves the bench on July 31.