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Battle for GOP Congressman Duffy's Open Seat

Every Congressional Election Counts—Democrats Must Fight for Retiring GOP Representative Sean Duffy’s Open Seat September 8, 2019

In 4/2018, Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman and former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez told a crowd at Duke University that even prior to Donald’s 2016 win, “Team Blue” had suffered too many losses at the local, state, and federal level. He stated that one of the reasons he ran for DNC Chair was to reverse that negative trend. Perez argued that the DNC had paid too much attention to electing the president and too little to electing Democrats at other levels. Perez noted that since Trump’s election, the DNC had changed its mission statement to one about electing Democrats up and down the ballot. In Perez’s words, the Democratic key to electoral success must be a recognition that “Every zip code counts (dukechronicle.com, Cohen, J., 4/09/18).” The phrase “Every zip code counts,” obviously means that every congressional race, in every district, often containing several zip codes within them, also counts. Congressional districts must not be neglected, whether swing or “Red”-leaning ones. This blog has already discussed how Democrats are aiming to flip former “Red” congressional districts in Texas where several GOP Congressmembers are hanging up their political boots.

Let’s leave the Lone Star State and go farther north to look at swingy Badger State, Wisconsin. WI, remember, flipped to Donald in 2016 and helped him win the Electoral College vote. It will, again, be in play in the 2020 White House contest. On 8/26/2019, 5th term GOP Representative Sean Duffy (47) announced he would be resigning from Congress on 9/23/2019. He is one of 13 House GOPers who will not run next year (cnn.com, Byrd, 8/26/19, cnn.com, Duster & Byrd, 9/05/19, CQ 116th Congress At Your Fingertips). Duffy and his wife are expecting their ninth child and this baby girl is suffering from a heart condition (rollcall.com, Bowman, “Fox & Friends,” kos, Dartagnan, 8/27/19). No matter what our political views, we all wish Duffy’s child a speedy recovery. Let’s look at Cong. Duffy’s background and his district.

Resigning Cong Sean Patrick Duffy currently represents WI’s 7th Congressional District (CD). The present WI 7th is located in the Badger State’s northwestern region. The 7th covers all or parts of 20 northern and northwestern WI counties and is the state’s largest and most rural congressional district (AP, latimes.com, 8/26/19, CQ 10 Political Almanac). The 7th stretches north and west from the state’s central counties to the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior’s southern waters. Dairy farming sustains the 7th’s economy. Small towns and family farms are part of this district. Marathon County leads WI in dairy production. There are some small metal working and paper factories. Wausau, an insurance-industry town, lies in the 7th. In the 1980’s, large numbers of Southeast Asian Hmong immigrants settled in Wausau and in the rural areas surrounding that city (CQ 10 & Barone 10 Almanac).

Prior to the post 2010 redistricting, the 7th was a marginal swing district with a Cook Partisan Voting Index of a +3 Democratic lean. Blue-collar regions around Stevens Point, Wausau, and along Lake Superior voted Democratic, while a strong Christian Right group, some descendants of Scandinavian immigrants, and agricultural areas were in the GOP’s corner. Gore beat W Bush by just .7% of the vote in 2000, and Kerry won with a 1.4 % margin in the 7th in 2004. In 2008, with a Democratic tide, Obama beat McCain by 14% (CQ & Barone 10 Almanacs). Influential Democratic Congressman David Obey represented the 7th CD from 1969-2011. In 2010, the year of the GOP/Tea Party tsunami, Obey retired and GOPer Sean Duffy won that open seat, beating Democratic rival Julie Lassa by eight points. After Duffy’s 2010 win, the state GOP majority redrew the 7th’s lines to make them more favorable to “Team Red” and newly-elected Duffy. GOPers shifted three Democratic cities, Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, and Chippewa Falls into the neighboring WI 3rd CD represented by Dem. Cong. Ron Kind. With this heavy GOP gerrymandering in the rural 7th, Romney won the 7th by 3 points in 2012 and Donald carried it by a “y uu ge” 20 points in 2016, his biggest margin in all of WI’s eight congressional districts. In 2016, Duffy won re-election by a crushing 24 points. Duffy’s 7th CD experienced the biggest pro-Trump swing in all of WI’s congressional districts (WI House Electoral History, jsonline.com, Beck, Gilbert, & Marley, 8/26/19). The Cook PVI, Partisan Voting Index now gives the WI 7th CD an R+8 score (cookpolitical.com/file, 4/07/17).

Hayward, WI native Duffy, the 10th of 11 children, has a marketing degree from St. Mary’s University and a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law. Prior to winning a seat in Congress, he served for eight years as the Ashland County District Attorney. However, just like Donald, Duffy is better known for his pre- political career as an entertainer. He was a frequent ESPN commentator. Like Donald, Duffy had high recognition as a reality show cast member. He appeared on “The Real World:Boston.” He was also on 02’s “Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Battle of the Seasons,” where he was part of the winning team. He met his wife, the former Rachel Campos-Duffy, while they were on a spin-off show “Road Rules: All Stars.” They both later appeared in “The Wedding Video (mtv.com, District Attorney Ashland County website).” Duffy has coasted to re-election in all his races after 2010. In 2018, he won with a 21.7% margin.

In the House, Duffy has been a conventional hard-right conservative. In 2011 and 2012, he voted with his right-wing party 94% and 96% respectively (CQ 14). He formed a strong friendship with former S. Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, the fellow who spent his time uselessly hounding Hillary over Benghazi (Barone 14). He has voted with Demagogue Donald in the rubber-stamp range, 93.3% of the time (projects.fivethirtyeight.com). Duffy is a strong supporter of Trump on trade, despite the trade war hurting farmers in his and similar districts. He introduced legislation to expand Trump’s tariff powers (jsonline.com, Beck, Gilbert, & Marley, 8/26/19). Cong. Duffy campaigned on repealing Obamacare. He repeatedly voted to repeal Obamacare, including its protections mandating affordable coverage for those with pre-existing conditions (baltimoresun.com). However, with his soon-to-be born daughter facing open heart surgery, he told FOX NEWS that “thank God, paying for that is not a consideration (FOX NEWS, Dartagnan, Kos, 8/27/18).” Translation: Thank God for the Obamacare he tried so hard to repeal that will protect him from going broke over his daughter’s pre-existing condition. Obamacare, Cong. Duffy, protects everyone.

Let’s look at who could be running in Campaign 2020 for the WI 7th. On the GOP side, State Senator Tom Tiffany (61) could be a potential candidate to watch. Tiffany was elected to the state Senate in 2012 after serving in the State Assembly. Another possible GOPer who might run for the 7th CD seat is WI State Senator Jerry Petrowski (69). He also served in the WI Assembly (rollcall.com, Bowman, 8/26/19). Tiffany’s current WI’s 12th State Senate District covers several counties in the WI 7th including Vilas, Lincoln, Florence, and Oneida, giving him recognition in this congressional area. Tiffany grew up on a farm and has experience in the oil business (legis.wisconsin.gov, tiffanyforassembly.com, Tiffany profile at antigodailyjournal.com). Petrowski was born and grew up in Wausau, WI. He was a small business owner and worked as a ginseng, dairy, and beef farmer. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve (docs.legis.wisconsin.gov, State Senator Jerry Petrowski: Biography). He currently represents the metro Wausau area and the counties of Marathon, Barron, Rusk, and Taylor, also part of the 7th CD. Again, Petrowski has name recognition in the 7th CD area and like Tiffany knows many of that district’s constituents. In this GOP-tilting area, other “Red” candidates may decide to run for the open congressional 7th .

On the Democratic side, Nick Milroy and Janet Bewley are likely to run for the 7th CD. Nick Milroy (45) has been a member of the WI State Assembly since 2008 and represents the 73rd Assembly District (AD). The 73rd AD is in the northwest portion of the WI 7th CD and borders the Duluth, MN area. It takes in the counties of Burnett, Douglas, and Washburn. It contains the Duluth metro area and the cities of Spooner and Superior. Duluth, MN native Milroy was raised in Superior, WI by parents who were public school teachers. After graduating high school, Milroy served in the U.S. Navy where he was deployed to the Persian Gulf. Upon his return to the U.S., Milroy stayed in the Navy Reserve while getting a biology degree at the University of WI-Eau Claire, where he later taught that subject. He served on the Superior Common Council. Milroy worked as a biologist for state, federal, and tribal agencies and fought to reduce mercury pollution. In the Assembly, Milroy uses his biology background as a member of the Committees on Natural Resources and Forestry. He also serves on the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. He is a member of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame (WI Blue Book 2013-2014, Biographical Sketch, freshwater-fishing.org).

Janet Bewley (67) has represented the WI 25th Senate District (SD) since 1/2015. The Badger 73rd SD is also part of the WI 7th CD. The 73rd CD contains three WI Assembly Districts, including Milroy’s 73rd AD. The 25th SD is located in north-western WI and is composed of part or all of Ashland, Barron, Douglas, Iron, Vilas, and Washburn Counties. The WI 25th SD is mainly rural and covers more land and more counties than any other SD in WI (U.S. Census Bureau, WI Legislature, “Meet Janet”). Cleveland, OH native Bewley received her undergraduate degree from Case Western Reserve and a Master’s from the University of Maine. She served on the Ashland, WI city council. She won election to the WI State Assembly in 2010. She won election to the WI State Senate in 11/2014 (“Meet Janet,” docs.legis.wisconsin.gov, apg-wi.com). As with the GOP side, other Democrats may join this race.

Under WI law, Dem. Gov. Tony Evers will have to call a special election to fill this seat and is now looking at potential dates for that contest (jsonline.com). Whoever wins that race, would have to quickly run again in 11/2020. Yes, the 7th CD was for a long time a very swingy and closely divided district. However, since it was blatantly gerrymandered after 2010, most experts, including “Inside Elections’” Nathan Gonzales, rates this contest for the open 7th as “Solidly Republican (rollcall.com, Bowman, 8/26/19).”

Barry Burden, director of the Election Research Center at UW-Madison, stated that while Duffy’s 7th leans heavily GOP, “it’s not impossible for Democrats to win it in a special election (jsonline.com, 8/26/19).” Burden noted that even after the 7th was gerrymandered in the GOP’s favor, Mitt Romney barely won the district over Obama. Democrats are fired up to oppose Trump. Trump’s recent rating is at -14 in crucial swing state WI (projects.fivethirtyeight.com, 7/2019). Still, the national GOP and “Red” groups like Koch Industries will pour millions into this WI contest, both during the special election and in the 11/2020 race. The Democratic candidates are extremely qualified, but the GOPers are also experienced and well-known. The Democratic nominee must be supported with money and “y uu ge” turnout. He/she will have to run a near-perfect race in this “Red” district in both the special election and in a general election contest. The race for the 7th CD constitutes a tough climb for the Democrats. However, we must not ignore it. We must make the GOP play defense here, which helps our candidates elsewhere. If we want to be competitive everywhere on the ballot, we must always follow DNC Chair Tom Perez’s mantra, “Every zip code counts.”

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