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Democrats’ fight to save Evers’ veto begins with primary

August 5, 2020 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Democrats’ effort to “Save the Veto” begins with Tuesday’s legislative primaries, races that will set the stage for November contests that will determine whether Republicans gain enough seats that they can override Gov. Tony Evers’ vetoes and largely remove the governor from the political equation for at least the next two years.

Also on tap are two closely watched Republican primaries for congressional races, including that to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who has represented the reliably conservative suburban Milwaukee 5th District since 1979.

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Republicans in the Legislature head into the fall elections with comfortable majorities in both the Assembly and Senate, thanks largely to favorable district boundaries the GOP drew up in 2011. The GOP’s goal now is to flip three Democratic seats in each chamber, giving them veto-proof majorities for redistricting next year that will establish maps for the next decade and the ability to write state law without worrying about Evers blocking them.

But first, the primaries. There are 28 legislative primaries on Tuesday, including eight in the Senate and 20 in the Assembly. Fifteen primaries will determine or almost certainly determine the winner either because there is no challenger from the other party in November or because the district is so heavily skewed for the controlling party.

Six Senate primaries are for open seats, including two that have been held by Republicans and four by Democrats. The GOP wants to flip two of those seats.

One of them is on the western side of the state, where former state Agriculture Secretary Brad Pfaff is locked in a three-way Democratic primary for former Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling’s seat in the 32nd District. Pfaff decided to run for the Legislature after the Republican-controlled Senate fired him from his job as agriculture secretary last year.

Republican Dan Kapanke is waiting to take on the Democratic candidate in November. Kapanke defeated Pfaff to win the seat in 2004 but lost it to Shilling in a 2011 recall spurred by anger over former Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 union law. He ran again in 2016 only to lose to Shilling in a recount.

The other open seat in the GOP’s crosshairs is in northeastern Wisconsin’s 30th Senate District. Sandra Ewald of Green Bay and Jonathon Hansen of De Pere are vying for the Democratic nomination. Hansen’s uncle, Dave Hansen, retired this year after holding the seat for 19 years. Waiting to take on the Democratic nominee in November is Green Bay lawyer Eric Wimberger. Republicans like his chances; the district leans conservative and Dave Hansen was often seen as vulnerable.

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The third Senate seat Republicans want to take from Democrats is the 10th District in northwestern Wisconsin. Incumbent Democrat Patty Schachtner won the traditionally Republican district in a 2018 special election and the GOP wants it back. State Rep. Rob Stafsholt and boutique store owner Cherie Link of Somerset are vying for the Republican nomination.

Five Republicans are vying for the right to replace David Craig in southeastern Wisconsin’s heavily conservative 28th Senate District. Craig, a hard-line Republican, decided to retire in May, saying he needed a break from public life. Democrat Adam Murphy will take on the GOP nominee in November, but the district is so heavily red the GOP primary will for all practical purposes determine who gets the seat.

Republicans also are looking to retain an open seat in south-central Wisconsin’s 14th Senate District after moderate incumbent Luther Olsen announced his retirement in February after serving 16 years. State Rep. Joan Ballweg and restaurant owner Ken Van Dyke are in the GOP primary. The winner will face Democrat Joni Anderson. Every county in the district voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, an ominous sign for Anderson.

One of the safest Democratic seats in the state, covering the heart of liberal Madison, is open for the first time since 1956. Seven Democrats are running, including two Muslim women and three African Americans, with no Republican candidates. That means the winner of the primary will take the seat, which World War II veteran Fred Risser first won in a 1962 special election. He is retiring at age 93 as the longest-serving legislator in the country.

Other notable primaries include:

—Incumbent Staush Gruszynski of Green Bay faces Kristina Shelton, program director for the Green Bay YWCA, in a Democratic primary. Democratic leaders demanded Gruszynski resign in December after a legislative staffer accused him of verbal sexual harassment but Gruszynski refused to go away. Republican Drew Kirsteatter awaits the primary winner.

—Three Republicans — Bonnie Lee, Steven Shevey and Linda Boucher — are vying for the right to take on Democratic Rep. Robyn Vining in southeastern Wisconsin’s 14th District. The GOP has designs on flipping that seat after Vining won it by less than 1 percentage point in 2018.

—Seven Democrats are fighting for an open seat in Madison’s 76th District after incumbent Democrat Chris Taylor decided to retire this year. Republican Patrick Hull has registered to run but the district leans so far left that the primary survivor will for all practical purposes win the seat.

— In the 5th Congressional District, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald faces Cliff DeTemple, a business owner making his first run for office, in the Republican primary. The winner will be heavily favored against Democrat Tom Palzewicz given the strong conservative leaning of the district.

— Derrick Van Orden, a former Navy Seal, faces public relations professional Jessi Ebben in western Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District Republican primary. Trump won the district in 2016 and Republicans are targeting Democratic incumbent Rep. Ron Kind this year. Both Van Orden and Ebben are running for the first time. Kind, a 23-year-veteran of Congress, faces a nominal challenge from Mark Neumann, who argues Kind has not been liberal enough.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1