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Battle lines set for Wisconsin GOP’s super-majority push

August 12, 2020 GMT
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FILE - In this Aug. 9, 2011, file photo, former Republican State Senator Dan Kapanke answers questions in Onalaska Wis. (Rory O'Driscoll/La Crosse Tribune via AP, File)
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FILE - In this Aug. 9, 2011, file photo, former Republican State Senator Dan Kapanke answers questions in Onalaska Wis. (Rory O'Driscoll/La Crosse Tribune via AP, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s primaries set the battle lines for a push by Republicans to secure veto-proof legislative super-majorities, locking in high-stakes match-ups against Democrats around the state.

After Tuesday’s primary, Republicans head into November with solid control of both the Assembly and Senate thanks to district boundaries they drew in 2011. Their goal now is to flip three seats in each house. If they succeed, they’ll win a two-thirds majority in both the Assembly and Senate, which translates to enough votes to override Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ vetoes.

That would largely remove the governor from the political equation for the next session, which figures to be pivotal for the next generation of Wisconsin politics. Republicans are due to redraw district boundaries next year to reflect population changes recorded in the 2020 census and will define districts to their liking so they can maintain legislative control for another decade. Evers would be powerless to stop them if his vetoes can’t stand.

The state Democratic Party has launched a “Save the Veto” campaign and has been raising money for its candidates at an astonishing clip; the party last month reported raising a record $10 million during the second quarter of the year.

Tuesday’s primary set one-on-one match-ups in four of the six key races. Here’s a look at where things stand:


One of the hottest contests this November figures to be for an open seat in western Wisconsin’s 32nd Senate District.

Former state Agriculture Secretary Brad Pfaff emerged from a three-way Democratic primary on Tuesday. Pfaff decided to run for the seat after Republican senators fired him from his post last year, an unprecedented move that reduced Evers to sputtering profanity to reporters.

Pfaff will face a familiar Republican foe in November. Dan Kapanke, the La Crosse Loggers baseball team owner, bested Pfaff to win the seat in 2004 before losing it to Democrat Jennifer Shilling in a 2011 recall spurred by his support for then-Gov. Scott Walker’s labor union restrictions. He lost again to Shilling by just 61 votes in 2016.

The district looks like a toss-up this time around, too. Trump won the district in 2016 but Ron Kind, the district’s long-time Democratic congressman, will be on the ballot and he’s been campaigning with Pfaff. In another telling sign of how close the race is, Kapanke and Pfaff are neck-in-neck in fundraising, with each raising around $212,000 as of the end of July.


About 100 miles up the Mississippi River from the 32nd lies the 10th Senate District, where Republicans are looking for revenge after losing the traditionally conservative seat to Democrat Patty Schachtner in a special election two years ago.

State Rep. Rob Stafsholt easily handled Somerset store owner Cherie Link in a GOP primary Tuesday to earn the right to face Schachtner in November. Campaign finance reports show Stafsholt had raised $80,000 compared to Schachtner’s $140,000.


Republicans also have their sights set on the open 30th Senate District in northeastern Wisconsin. Democrat Dave Hansen had held the seat for 19 years before announcing his retirement earlier this year, but the area is traditionally conservative. Hansen’s nephew, Jonathon Hansen, defeated Sandra Ewald in the primary to win the Democratic nomination. He will face Republican attorney Eric Wimberger in November. Wimberger had raised just $16,000 as of the end of July compared with Hansen’s $58,650.


Democrat Robyn Vining won southeastern Wisconsin’s 14th Assembly District by just four-tenths of a percentage point in 2018 and Republicans see her as vulnerable. Bonnie Lee, a Wauwatosa ministries director, easily survived a three-way GOP primary on Tuesday and will face Vining in November. Vining had raised nearly $140,000 as of the end of July compared with Lee’s $89,000.


Two other Assembly seats that Republicans have targeted didn’t have any primaries on Tuesday. Democratic incumbent Beth Meyers will face Republican James Bolen in a battle for far northern Wisconsin’s 74th District. Democratic incumbent Steve Doyle will take on Republican Kevin Hoyle in western Wisconsin’s 94th District. Both Meyers and Doyle had easily out-raised their opponents as of the end of July, with each of them reporting six-figure fundraising numbers. Neither Republican reported raising more than $18,000.


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