Republican Tom Tiffany and Democrat Tricia Zunker rolled to robust wins over their primary challengers Tuesday, and will now go head-to-head in May for the seventh congressional district seat vacated by former U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy.
With all 705 precincts reporting, Tiffany won an easy victory over Jason Church, winning almost 58% of the vote to 42% for Church - 44,543 to 32,742. Zunker crushed her opponent, Lawrence Dale, winning almost 89% of the vote - 36,178 to 4,543.
While Tiffany's winning percentage was not as large as Zunker's, there were far more Republican than Democratic voters casting ballots, and Tiffany was dominant across the sprawling district.
In Minocqua, Tiffany's hometown, the state senator marched to a 74-26% win, 774 to 271. He won Oneida County with 67% of the vote; Vilas County with 70%; Iron County with 70%; and Forest County with 64%.
Tiffany easily captured the more populous and key Marathon County by 57-43%, and he even won Church's home county of St. Croix by 243 votes, or 52% to 48%. In the end, Tiffany captured 21 of the 26 counties in the district.
In victory, Tiffany, who is in his second term as a state senator after serving one term in the Assembly, thanked his network of supporters on the ground.
"This campaign has always been about protecting freedom and opportunity for my family and yours," he said. "I'm so thankful for the grassroots volunteers who worked so hard and everyone who voted for me at the polls Tuesday."
Growing up on a dairy farm, Tiffany said he knows the challenges that Wisconsin families face.
"I've signed both sides of a paycheck and will work to bring my business experience to Congress, where Nancy Pelosi and her radical allies need some Wisconsin common sense," he said.
Tiffany also pledged to be a strong ally of President Donald Trump.
"Now, it's time to rally together and win on Tuesday, May 12," he said. "President Trump needs strong reinforcements in Congress who will work to stop socialism and defend freedom. I'm running for Congress to keep America great. We must ensure our children and grandchildren can grow up with the same freedom and opportunity that we did."
In his concession statement, Church also thanked the people of the congressional district and pledged to support Tiffany in the upcoming general election.
"I want to thank everyone for their warm support of Bella and me these past few months," he said. "It has been a fantastic journey. I've met so many wonderful people across the seventh congressional district. While the results didn't turn out the way we hoped, we will always remember the love and support that you've shown us. President Trump needs an ally in Congress, which is why it's imperative we elect Sen. Tiffany in May."
In the closing weeks, the campaign had become mostly a contest about who would be the better ally of Trump. Church, a war veteran who lost his legs below the knees in an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2012, campaigned as an outsider like Trump, while Tiffany campaigned as a proven conservative who could be counted on to help the president "drain the swamp."
On the Democratic side, Zunker vowed a strong fight in the election ahead.
"I am deeply humbled by this outpouring of support," Zunker said on Facebook. "We are one step closer to reclaiming this seat and having real representation for the people, not the corporate interests. And it only happened because you all showed up in support."
Zunker is president of the Wausau School Board and an associate justice of the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court. If elected, she would be the state's first Native American member of Congress.
Supreme Court race
In his bid for a full 10-year term on the Supreme Court, justice Daniel Kelly qualified for the April spring election, easily outpacing his two opponents. He will face Jill Karofsky, who finished second in the three-candidate contest.
Kelly scored 50% of the vote, or 352,860 votes, while Karofsky won 37%, or 261,721. Ed Fallone trailed in third with just 13%, or 89,181 votes.
While Kelly's numbers were dominant for the evening, most of Fallone's votes are expected to gravitate toward Karofsky, setting up the possibility of a close April contest. Another concern for Kelly is that the April election takes place on the same day as the state's presidential primaries.
Unlike the Republican presidential primary, where Trump is not seriously opposed, the Democratic contest is expected to be competitive and could boost turnout among Democrats.
Then Gov. Scott Walker appointed Kelly to the high court in 2016, when justice David Prosser retired.
Karofsky has been a Dane County circuit judge since 2017. She previously worked as the executive director for the Wisconsin Office of Crime Victim Services.
The Supreme Court race is officially nonpartisan but not really so. Democrats wishing to pick up a seat for liberals backed Karofsky and Fallone, while Republicans supported Kelly, and on Tuesday night the state Republican Part congratulated Kelly on his first-place finish.
"Justice Kelly has proven throughout his career that he is dedicated to protecting the constitution and rule of law," said state GOP chairman Andrew Hitt. "Justice Kelly understands that Wisconsinites want a Supreme Court justice who leaves the policy-making to the politicians, and decides cases based on the law."
Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming "Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story" and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.
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