By ?RYAN J. FOLEY
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican businessman Reid Ribble ousted Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen on Tuesday as the GOP tried to capture a majority of Wisconsin’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 14 years.
Ribble soundly defeated Kagen, a key champion of health care reform signed by President Barack Obama, in his first run for public office in northeastern Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District.
Hoping to capitalize on a wave of dissatisfaction with the party in power, Republicans were also trying to knock off U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and pick up the seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. David Obey for 41 years.
Five other Wisconsin incumbents — Republicans Paul Ryan, Jim Sensenbrenner and Tom Petri and Democrats Tammy Baldwin and Gwen Moore — were re-elected to the House.
Ribble, 54, argued his experience running his family’s roofing company would help him know how to boost the economy and cut the deficit in Washington.
Kagen, a 60-year-old doctor who founded allergy clinics in the area, tried to hang on to his seat by arguing his votes for Obama’s health care reform law and stimulus package had helped the district. He touted those achievements in a concession speech to supporters, saying, “We will battle on. The first day of the next campaign cycle starts tomorrow.”
Van Vehrs, a 59-year-old truck driver, and his wife, Karen, said they voted for Ribble because he shares their conservative views and knows how to run a business. They said they opposed Obama’s spending and health care policies that Kagen supported.
“I want to wake up tomorrow morning and say, ‘Steve Kagen, you’re fired!’,” Van Vehrs said after casting his ballot for Ribble at a Catholic church in Appleton. “And, ‘Obama, you’re next in two years’.”
But Vic Biechler, a 67-year-old retired paper mill worker, said Kagen and other Democratic lawmakers deserved another two years in power to give Obama’s agenda a chance to succeed. He credited Kagen with helping pass desperately needed health care reform.
“I don’t think we need a change to vote Republicans in and make things worse than they are,” he said.
In central Wisconsin, Obey, chair of the House appropriations committee, tried to help the Democratic Party retain control of the seat he held since 1969 in the eighth district, which stretches from central to northwestern Wisconsin. When he announced his retirement in May, he threw his support behind Democratic state Sen. Julie Lassa, 40.
Lassa is running against Republican Sean Duffy, a 39-year-old former star on MTV’s “The Real World: Boston,” in a campaign that has drawn intense interest because it is the first competitive one in the district in years. Duffy, the former Ashland County district attorney, hammered a theme of fiscal conservatism.
Bev Lorge, 78, of Schofield, said she voted for Duffy because she agreed with his views opposing abortion, to make permanent the tax cuts for the wealthy and to cut the nation’s debt. She said “it’s very refreshing to me” to be able to vote for a Republican after years of being represented by Obey.
“Duffy represents the whole Republican Party that I have studied and I want some change back in there,” she said.
Jessica Benton of Wausau, a 37-year-old administrative assistant, said she was comfortable voting for Lassa because she had been endorsed by Obey, who she had voted for in past elections. She said it was “kind of bittersweet” and strange not to have his name on the ballot.
Benton said she was impressed by Lassa’s “calming presence” and intelligence, and said she believed she would help the unemployed by bringing jobs to the area. She said her husband was without work for 14 months after he was laid off from an information technology job.
“It’s a very personal, personal election this year,” she said.
And in a race that appeared to tighten in the final days, seven-term Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse was trying to fend off a challenge from Republican state Sen. Dan Kapanke in western Wisconsin’s third congressional district.
If either Duffy or Kapanke wins, Republicans will control five of the eight seats in Wisconsin’s congressional delegation. Republicans have not held a majority of the delegation since 1996, when they had a 6-3 advantage before losing two seats in that election.