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GOP’s Jacque says shoeleather will help him clear ‘blue wave’ chatter on Tuesday

An architect of Wisconsin’s prevailing-wage repeal who won a tough-fought battle in May to secure his party’s nomination for an open state Senate seat says he’s confident his shoe-leather campaigning will make up for the fundraising disadvantage he faces in Tuesday’s special election in northeast Wisconsin.

Rep. Andre Jacque, of De Pere, faces Caleb Frostman, the former executive director of the Door County Economic Development Corp., in Tuesday’s special election to the state’s Senate District 1. That district was most recently represented by Frank Lasee, who stepped down after being appointed by Governor Scott Walker to an administration post in December. In another special election scheduled for Tuesday, voters will get a change to pick the successor to former state Rep. Keith Ripp, who also stepped down following an appointment by Walker.

In the race for Senate District 1, Frostman has had the fundraising advantage, bringing in $188,660 while Jacque has raised only $79,000. Campaign cash, though, didn’t matter much in the May primary, when Jacque emerged with 52 percent even though his opponent, Alex Renard, had out-raised him by a four-to-one margin.

Jacque drew the ire of many Wisconsin Republicans when he bucked his party’s leaders and held a committee hearing in 2015 on a bill calling for the repeal of the state’s prevailing-wage laws. The hearing undermined a reform proposal that would have merely curtailed prevailing-wage requirements, rather than eliminate them altogether.

After Jacque announced he would seek the state senate seat, a series of prominent Republicans — including Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the powerful Joint Finance Committee — came out with endorsements of his opponent in the primary.

In a phone interview on Monday, Jacque said he doubted many voters will be thinking about prevailing wages when they go to the polls on Tuesday. Jacque, a highly conservative lawmaker, said the issue has been overshadowed by the disagreements he has with his opponent over more-general policy questions.

“I think that prevailing wage is really dwarfed by all the issues that are out there,” Jacque said. “If I had lost the primary, maybe there would be a different discussion right now.”

Frostman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Monday.

The elections in northeast and south-central Wisconsin can’t change the balance of power in either of the state Legislature’s two chambers. Republicans hold a 63-35 majority in the Assembly and an 18-14 advantage in the Senate. What’s more, the winners of this week’s primary probably won’t have a chance to vote on anything without first seeking re-election. Whichever candidates are elected on Tuesday will have to run again in November to retain their seat, and the Legislature isn’t expected to return to Madison until its next two-year session begins in January.

Jacque and his opponents have been drawing support from many of the same groups that have given to their respective parties in the past. Jacques, for instance, has attracted support from the Associated Builders & Contractors of Wisconsin, a group composed mostly of non-union contractors.

The ABC of Wisconsin gave $2,000 to Jacque’s campaign. John Schulze, director of legal and government relations at ABC, said Jacque could pull off a win on Tuesday thanks to his in-person campaign efforts.

“He is not a fundraiser, but he has been an elected official for eight years,” Schulze said. “All he does is knock on doors. I saw him two weeks ago. He looked visibly leaner. You only get that by walking and doing doors a lot.”

Separately, a group called Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has spent $160,000 to produce and air television ads supporting Jacque.

Frostman’s campaign in turn has collected a bevy of contributions from union groups. The Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council and the Wisconsin Pipe Trades Political Action Committee have each kicked in $2,000.

Outside the trades, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters’ political action committee has shelled out about $172,900 on staff and ads to support Frostman. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s group, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, is spending $35,000 on brochures and staff.

Democrats, meanwhile, are counting on victories to build on two big wins earlier this year and reinforce the “blue wave” many expect to see in this fall’s elections.

“I don’t care if it’s an anti-Trump sentiment or if it’s an anti-Republican sentiment or if it’s just dissatisfaction with a party that’s been in control for eight years,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said. “We need to capitalize on it.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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