By Ryan J. Foley
Madison — A state representative whose uncle once held the seat, a businessman who was a leader in the roofing industry and a former lawmaker are competing for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen.
In the Tuesday primary, voters in northeastern Wisconsin’s 8th District will choose among state Rep. Roger Roth, businessman Reid Ribble and former state Rep. Terri McCormick. The winner gets a shot at Kagen, the millionaire Appleton doctor who has held the seat since 2006.
Republicans say defeating Kagen, a Democrat, and picking up the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. David Obey are their best chances to gain ground this election cycle. If they win both, Republicans will control a majority of the state’s eight-member House delegation and could help tip the balance of power nationally.
In the retiring Obey’s 7th District, former Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy is considered the overwhelming favorite in the GOP primary against organic farmer Daniel Mielke of Rudolph. Likewise, state Sen. Julie Lassa of Stevens Point is expected to win the Democratic Party’s nomination in a race against real estate broker Don Raihala of Superior.
Those expected results would set up a high-stakes campaign for control of the seat held for 41 years by Obey, a leading liberal who heads the House Appropriations Committee. Already, independent groups on both sides have attacked Duffy and Lassa in television spots.
But the most interesting race Tuesday could be in the 8th District, which includes a swath of eastern Wisconsin stretching from Door County to the Fox Valley to the north woods.
The district has historically tilted Republican, and Kagen could have a tough time holding the seat in a year in which the political momentum is against his party. A crowd of Republicans lined up to challenge him, but was whittled down to Roth, Ribble and McCormick after several candidates dropped out.
The three remaining candidates have attacked Kagen for supporting the federal health care reform law and a cap-and-trade bill, which they say would hurt the economy. They have each pledged to slash government spending, to try to cut the deficit and to get tough on illegal immigration. But differences in their backgrounds and some policy issues have emerged.
Ribble ran his family’s roofing business, The Ribble Group Inc., Kaukauna, for decades. He has never run for office and has been trying to portray himself as the front-runner. The 54 year old has raised and spent the most money, and during a recent debate, he focused his attention on differences with Kagen rather than his primary opponents.
But Roth, 32, has a strong political biography himself. For starters, his uncle Toby Roth held the seat he’s running for from 1979 to 1997. He served three tours in Iraq as a technician with the Wisconsin Air National Guard. And he has been in the Legislature since 2006, winning the seat that McCormick left to run for Congress that year.
McCormick, 53, served three terms in the Assembly after being a leading advocate for charter schools in the 1990s. She owns a publishing and consulting business. She lost her 2006 bid for the Republican primary to former Assembly Speaker John Gard, who lost to Kagen in the 2006 and 2008 elections.
Also on Tuesday:
* Businessman Chad Lee is running against college instructor Peter Theron for the GOP nomination to take on U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin.
* State Sen. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse faces businessman Bruce Evers of Holmen for the GOP nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Ron Kind.
* U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore of Milwaukee will try to fend off a Democratic primary challenge by businessman Paul Morel of Milwaukee. Three Republicans are also vying for the party’s nomination in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.