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Political scientists say that in a tight race between little-known candidates and few defining issues, endorsements can have more influence than usual.
That might be why Brad Schimel, the Republican candidate for state attorney general, is calling himself "law enforcement’s choice."
And it’s probably why the first thing that pops up on the Waukesha County district attorney’s campaign website is a boast regarding 89 endorsements.
In a new TV ad just a month from his Nov. 4, 2014 face-off with Democrat and Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, the ad’s narrator says that as a "decorated prosecutor and father of two girls, Brad Schimel puts public safety ahead of politics."
The TV spot, which began airing Oct. 1, 2014, continues: "It’s why an overwhelming majority of Republican and Democrat law enforcement leaders have endorsed Brad Schimel."
Is Schimel right?
Behind the numbers
Schimel defines "law enforcement leaders" as county sheriffs and district attorneys. A solid majority of them -- about 60 percent -- run as Republicans, so Schimel had a natural advantage vs. Happ.
But a fair number of law enforcement officials decline to endorse, so the advantage is not guaranteed.
We analyzed the endorsement lists of both candidates and here’s what we found:
Combined, Happ and Schimel claim 112 endorsements from current DAs and sheriffs. Schimel has received 80 percent of those endorsements. If you were to look at all sheriffs and DAs -- including those who have not issued endorsements -- his total of 89 would represent about 60 percent.
Significantly, Schimel won over nine Democrats and one independent.
In contrast, Happ’s 23 endorsements were all from within her party -- not a single Republican official defected to her side.
Bottom line, Schimel started with a natural "base" of 60 percent, but wound up with 80 percent support from those who endorsed.
So, by that measure his "overwhelming majority of Republican and Democrat law enforcement leaders" claim holds up to scrutiny.
But his claim can also be read as a majority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats.
By that measure, he is accurate with Republicans, but not with Democrats. Of the 32 Democrats who have endorsed, Happ received 23 compared to Schimel’s nine.
For Schimel, that is 28 percent of the nods from Democrats.
That’s 28 percent more than Happ won from Republicans, but not a majority.
Schimel’s ad says that "an overwhelming majority of Republican and Democrat law enforcement leaders have endorsed Brad Schimel."
The AG candidate has won 80 percent support from those who endorsed, and wooed 9 Democrats into the fold. He has won a clear majority overall, and from Republicans, but not from Democrats alone.
That makes for a partially accurate claim, our definition of Half True.
Schimel campaign TV ad, "Law enforcement’s choice," Oct. 1, 2014
Schimel campaign website
Happ campaign website
Wisconsin Blue Book, "County Officers in Wisconsin," (page 733), June 30, 2013
Email exchanges with Happ and Schimel campaigns
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