12th Senate District: Incumbent Tom Tiffany

Updated June 17: The Democrats have avoided a primary in the race to unseat Sen. Tom Tiffany (R – Hazelhurst). Dave Polashek has dropped out and decided to throw his support behind Van Stippen, leaving him as the only Democrat in the race.


Senate Republican incumbent Tom Tiffany sits in a good place heading into his 2016 re-election campaign. The Joint Finance Committee member works his district hard, has a significant fundraising advantage and may benefit from some infighting within the Democratic primary.

After one term in the state Assembly, Tiffany ran for the open 12th District Senate seat in 2012, where he cruised to a 56-40 victory over Democrat Susan Sommer. By area, the district is one of the largest and covers a large swath of northwestern Wisconsin including Merrill, Rhinelander and Oconto Falls.

If the Senate Democrats have any chance of taking back the majority, this seat is one they have to win. It is a seat that for many years was represented in the Senate by Democrats Roger Breske and Jim Holperin and the numbers should be better for Democrats in a presidential election year.

There are currently two candidates announced to run as Democrats in the 12th District primary. Dave Poleshek, a former Oconto Falls school administrator announced early and appeared to be the only candidate running, but after what some viewed as a slow start to Poleshek’s campaign, Bryan Van Stippen has now entered the race. Van Stippen had originally announced his candidacy for the 35th Assembly seat against Republican incumbent Mary Czaja, but just last week switched to the Senate primary.

Regardless of who emerges from the Democratic primary, they will face an uphill battle against Tiffany. While some view Donald Trump’s nomination as problematic for down ticket Republicans, Trump did well in Tiffany’s area and at this stage in the game does not appear he will hurt the election chances of legislators in northwestern Wisconsin.

Senate Democrats do not have many options this election cycle to close the 19-14 gap they face, so this seat will stay on their top target list. Early on it appears they will need a 2006 wave election if they want to knock off Tiffany.

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