AS IF WISCONSIN DEMS WEREN’T ANGRY ENOUGH…. As recently as a month ago, the state Supreme Court election in Wisconsin wasn’t expected to be close. But progressive activists, motivated by excessive GOP overreach and attacks on unions, mobilized and mounted a spirited campaign in support of JoAnne Kloppenburg.

Wednesday, it looked as if she’d pulled off a miracle, narrowly defeating conservative Justice David Prosser. Yesterday, the discovery of thousands of votes quickly tilted the race in the other direction.

The tally of a close Wisconsin Supreme Court election, which had come to be a referendum on Republican leadership in the state, turned upside down on Thursday evening: the incumbent justice, viewed as a conservative, took a lead of more than 7,000 votes after a clerk in one Republican-leaning county announced she had initially failed to report some 14,000 votes.

The development quieted expectations that the race would be decided in a statewide recount. But it also set off a wave of skepticism from Democrats and union supporters, who had viewed the contest as an outlet for their fury at the Republican cuts to collective bargaining rights. Those forces had supported the challenger, and said they found it convenient that votes for the incumbent, Justice David T. Prosser Jr., were suddenly discovered.

The discovered votes came from Waukesha County, a suburban GOP stronghold, where county clerk Kathy Nickolaus cited a computer mishap for the error.

For context, it’s worth noting that Kathy Nickolaus is a Republican donor who’s been involved in a series of controversial elections, including a ballot mix-up in 2004, sample ballots in 2005 that accidentally told voters who to vote for, a 2007 incident involving touch-screen voting, and perhaps most importantly, a 2002 controversy in which Nickolaus was granted immunity as part of a criminal investigation into Republican misdeeds in the State Assembly.

This is the same Nickolaus who yesterday uncovered a net gain of 7,000 votes for the Republican candidate who was trailing in a closely-watched judicial race.


Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions, Nate Silver noted that it’s likely nothing nefarious has transpired. The results from Waukesha County were, in fact, unexpectedly low before yesterday, and it appeared that votes had gone uncounted. What’s more, it’s a community in which the GOP dominates, so it stands to reason that when the heretofore missing votes were included, Prosser would be the beneficiary.

But just for the sake of conversation, I’d love to know what the reaction would be — from Republicans, on Fox News, etc. — if the situation were reversed. Imagine there was a close, important race and the conservative candidate eked out a narrow win, and the very next day, a Democratic donor with a sketchy election record discovered 7,000 additional votes for the liberal.

What do you suppose we’d hear from the right under those circumstances?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.