Wis. Congressional Candidates: Who’s In and Who’s Out

UPDATED 10/16/19

The lists of possible candidates for the open 7th and 5th Congressional Districts in Wisconsin continue to narrow. Meanwhile, recent headlines in the 7th have focused on the primary and general election dates for the special election to replace Sean Duffy, whose resignation took effect Sept. 23.


7th CD

Citing a need to fill the seat as quickly as possible, Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order the day Duffy resigned, setting the special election for Jan. 27, 2020 with a primary on Dec. 30, 2019. (The earliest date Gov. Evers could have called the election and is Jan. 21, but that date would require a primary on Christmas Eve.) Under the executive order, nomination papers would be due Dec. 2.

Turnout would likely be relatively low for the primary held on the Monday between Christmas and New Year’s Day and for the general, also held on a Monday. The Dec. 30 primary also would have fallen on the last day of Hanukkah.

These original dates ordered by Gov. Evers faced scrutiny and legal complications, leading the administration to announce they would be rescheduling the special election.

Setting a new date has additional complications. Under state law, special elections scheduled after Feb. 1 must coincide with regularly scheduled elections. But scheduling the special to align with spring elections in April could conflict with federal law. There are 49 days between the April general and spring primary, and federal law requires absentee ballots to be sent to military and overseas voters 45 days in advance of federal elections. Gov. Evers’s office has indicated they believe this timeline aligning the special election with both the spring primary and general would be too short to certify the 7th CD primary results and send ballots overseas.

Other political dynamics are also at play in the spring elections. On that day, voters will decide both the state Supreme Court race and Wisconsin’s presidential primary. Democrats motivated to come out for the presidential primary will have an effect on turnout and results in the Supreme Court race, where conservative Justice Kelly is running for re-election. Adding the special election for the 7th CD, a heavily Republican district, to the April election dates could encourage a higher Republican turnout.

The governor’s office told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel they are considering two options for new dates: 1) Aligning the special election general and the spring election general on April 7, with the special election primary occurring on Feb. 4, two weeks before the spring election primary; or 2) Aligning the special election primary and the spring election primary on Feb. 18, with the special election general on May 5, nearly a month after the spring general.

Although the date of the special election is currently in flux, the list of candidates has narrowed, with several new candidates announcing runs and some potential contenders officially declining to enter the race.

Who’s in:

  • State Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst)
  • Jason Church, northwest region director for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson
  • Michael Opela Sr., a business owner and entrepreneur from the area

Who’s out:

  • Mosinee Mayor Brent Jacobson
  • Fritz Riveron, a thoracic surgeon from Wausau
  • State Sen. Jerry Petrowkski (R-Marathon)
  • State Rep. Romaine Quinn (R-Rice Lake)
  • Republican strategist and former executive at Americans for Prosperity Luke Hilgemann

On the Democratic side, business man and veteran Lawrence Dale and Wausau School Board president and attorney Tricia Zunker have both announced runs. Potential contenders state Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Mason), state Rep. Nick Milroy (D-South Range), former state Sen. Pat Kreitlow, and Christine Bremer Muggli, an attorney from Wausau, have declined to enter the race. Margaret Engebretson, who ran against Duffy in 2018, has decided against a bid.


5th CD

While the race for the 5th CD, U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s (R-Menomonee Falls) seat, won’t occur until fall of 2020, candidates in this part of the state have also begun announcing.

Who’s in:

  • State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) officially announced 17.

Other potential candidates:

  • State Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield)
  • Matt Neuman, son of former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann

Who’s out:

  • Kevin Nicholson, who ran in the 2018 Republican primary for U.S. Senate
  • State Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Waukesha)
  • Matt Walker, son of former Gov. Scott Walker
  • Ben Voelkel, an aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson
  • Former state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield)
  • State Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield)
  • Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow
  • Former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch

On the Democratic side, Tom Palzewicz, who lost to Sensenbrenner in 2018, announced he will run again.