What's supposed to be a non-partisan race is turning into one of the most heated contests in next week's election.

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This election voters face a choice that doesn't come around very often. On August 7th, three of the five Supreme Court justices on the court finished their eight-year term and voters decide if they will keep their jobs.

Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Sharon Lee, and Justice Cornelia Clark are on the ballot. It's a race that typically stays out of the spotlight and doesn't see a lot of spending. But an attack campaign led by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey has prompted record-breaking spending.

Chances are you've seen the commercials or received the mailers urging you to vote to retain or replace the justices.

The Brennan Center for Justice, a national watchdog group, said campaign spending has eclipsed $578,510 and that's only a small portion. More numbers will be released Thursday and some expect the total to double.

It has forced the justices to seriously step into campaign mode, something they've never done in their time on the bench.

"This is the first time in my 27-year career on the bench that we've been faced with an opposition campaign," Chief Justice Wade said on Inside Tennessee.

"What's different is there is a large amount of money coming in from out of state," said Justice Lee on Inside Tennessee.

At the heart of this fight is a partisan battle over who should be the attorney general. Tennessee is the only state in the nation where the supreme court appoints the attorney general. Now for the first time ever, the Republicans have a chance to take out three justices nominated by a Democratic governor and put in their own attorney general.

Inside Tennessee panelist and Republican strategist Susan Richardson Williams said this is the first time she's seen this kind of attack spending from out of state groups in a judicial retention race.

She said there could be a number of reasons behind it. First, some critics have singled out justices saying they haven't done enough for crime victim's rights. Others said it's about Republicans controlling all three branches of state government.

"Who knows what the real reason is. But I think you've seen this around the country where some of these outside groups, with big money, want to make sure conservatives are winning all the seats," Williams said.

Richardson Williams suggests everyone take a closer look behind the ads.

"I think people need to listen carefully and ask questions," she said.

Thursday all three Supreme Court justices will make a group visit to several places in East Tennessee:

  • 9:30 AM Roane County Courthouse, Kingston
  • 11:15 AM Anderson County Courthouse, Clinton
  • 12:15-1:20 PM Lunch Meet and Greet, Razzleberries in Jackson Square, Oak Ridge
  • 2:00-3:15 PM Tour of UT Campus with Dean Doug Blaze
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