- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Television ads are hitting the airwaves as Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race heads into its final week before a primary whittles the three-candidate field down to two contenders.

Milwaukee County Judge Joe Donald is set to launch his first ad Tuesday in Milwaukee and Green Bay. His campaign says the buy is worth $150,000. That follows on the heels of 4th District Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg’s first ad, which began running statewide Saturday. That buy cost more than $200,000, Kloppenburg campaign manager Melissa Mulliken said. Outside group Wisconsin Alliance for Reform started running a statewide ad supporting incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley last week. The group spent at least $234,660 on the buy, according to research by the nonpartisan group Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.

Donald’s ad features the judge complaining in a voice-over about how politics has infiltrated people’s televisions, radios and computers, accompanied by a shot of a person closing a laptop in disgust. The laptop shows a photo of Bradley standing with Republican Gov. Scott Walker at a news conference where Walker announced he had appointed Bradley to the high court.

Donald doesn’t mention Bradley or Kloppenburg by name, but concludes by saying politics don’t belong in court and everyone should be treated the same under the law. The ad features shots of white people side by side with minorities in a jury box.

Kloppenburg’s ad is far more aggressive. An unseen narrator points out Walker has appointed Bradley to three judgeships in three years and says she’s “backed to the hilt” by right-wing special interests. The narrator goes on to accuse Donald of supporting Bradley twice. It also features Kloppenburg seated in one of the justice’s chairs in the Supreme Court’s state Capitol courtroom.

Walker appointed Bradley as a Milwaukee County judge and as an appellate judge before tapping her to replace the late Justice Patrick Crooks in October, making her the incumbent going into the 2016 elections.

Donald endorsed Bradley’s 2013 campaign to retain her Milwaukee County judgeship and acted as a reference on her application to the appeals court last year. He has said he supported her because he thought she wanted to be a trial court judge, not a Supreme Court justice.

Wisconsin Alliance for Reform’s ad touts Bradley as fair and compassionate. It makes no mention of either Donald or Kloppenburg. Since the ad doesn’t ask voters to elect or defeat any candidate, it qualifies as issue advocacy. That means Wisconsin Alliance for Reform doesn’t have to report its spending on the communication.

Donald campaign manager Andy Suchorski said Kloppenburg’s ad shows she’s losing ground and Donald is the only real independent in the race. Bradley campaign manager Luke Martz said her rivals’ ads are disappointing and Bradley is trying to run a positive campaign.

The candidates were required to file campaign finance reports with the state Government Accountability Board on Monday covering their fundraising and spending over the month of January.

Kloppenburg, Donald and Bradley shared their cover sheets with The Associated Press on Monday morning. They show Kloppenburg had about $269,000 on hand as of Feb. 1 and had raised about $55,925 over the month while spending about $19,500. Donald had $206,800 in the bank, raised $35,000 and spent $24,600. Bradley had $107,880 on hand, raised $87,920 and spent $156,299.

The three candidates will square off in a Feb. 16 primary, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the April 5 general election.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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