By RYAN J. FOLEY
Associated Press Writer
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A businessman making his first run for public office defeated two more experienced politicians Tuesday for the Republican Party’s nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen.
Voters in Wisconsin’s 8th District picked Reid Ribble of Kaukauna over state Rep. Roger Roth and former state Rep. Terri McCormick. With 74 percent of precincts reporting on Tuesday night, Ribble had 50 percent of the vote, compared with Roth’s 30 percent and McCormick’s 18 percent.
Ribble will now try to unseat Kagen, the two-term Democratic congressman who is an Appleton doctor. He is the former president of the Ribble Group Inc., a family-owned roofing business, and past president of the National Roofing Contractors Association.
Republicans say they believe Ribble will make a strong candidate in an election in which voters are looking for business experience to turn the economy around.
Ribble said he was surprised by his margin of victory and hoped it would help him unify the party behind his campaign. He said he believed voters rewarded him for staying positive, and focusing on creating jobs, balancing the federal budget and paying off the national debt.
“My message is not going to change in the general election at all,” he said.
Kagen issued a statement saying the election will be “about the hardworking families who call northeast Wisconsin their home.” He said the choice would be about continuing policies he’s supported or “to turn the clock back to the losing policies that rewarded wealthy Wall Street executives for shipping our American jobs overseas.”
“I have faith in the people of our district; they know I am on their side,” Kagen said. “They’re not going to give the car keys back to anyone who promotes the losing policies of the past that drove our economy into the ditch.”
Ribble disputed that characterization, saying he was looking to improve the nation’s finances to help his grandchildren.
Spokesmen for Roth and McCormick both said they would work to defeat Kagen and elect a conservative for the district. They stopped short of immediately endorsing Ribble, whose fundraising advantage was a huge factor in the outcome, they said.
“We tried to run an old-fashioned campaign based on getting out there hitting the streets and meeting voters,” Roth spokesman Sean Lansing said. “And we went up against a campaign that was spending big money on television and radio ads. At the end of the day, that approach came out on top.”
McCormick spokesman Sean Casper said she is “dedicated to seeing a conservative Republican in Congress in November and will work towards that end.”
Wayne Defferding, a retired attorney who lives in Appleton, said he voted for the 54-year-old Ribble because he was impressed with his background and ads. One of them showed him in a gym touting his 20 years coaching high school volleyball.
“He’s got the business experience that will benefit him in Congress,” Defferding said. “And he’s old enough and wise enough in the ways of the private sector not to be awed by congressional responsibilities.”
Roth, a veteran of the Iraq war who represented the Appleton area in the Assembly since 2007, used a grass-roots approach in his campaign, knocking on doors and blanketing the district with yard signs. Roth’s name recognition was high because his uncle, Toby Roth, held the congressional seat from 1979 to 1997.
McCormick served in the Assembly from 2001 to 2007, and unsuccessfully ran for the seat in 2006.
Also Tuesday, voters in the 7th Congressional District stretching from central to northern Wisconsin whittled down a field of candidates hoping to replace retiring Democratic Rep. David Obey. Republican Sean Duffy, a former reality television star and district attorney, and Democratic state Sen. Julie Lassa advanced to the general election.
Both parties are making the open seat, which had been represented by Obey for four decades, a top national priority with control of the House at stake.