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Republicans tout fundraising edge as midterm elections near

There’s a big governor’s race, and a nationally important U.S. Senate race this fall.

But insiders are also watching races for state Senate, in which two Democratic special-election victories this year have cut the GOP margin to 18-15.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is touting the Republicans’ fundraising advantage over Democrats in various big races, as well as over the Democrats’ legislative committee, saying it vindicates his decision not to spend more money earlier this year in an attempt to retain the seat representing Wisconsin’s 1st Senate District in northeast Wisconsin.

After Caleb Frostman, a Democrat from Sturgeon Bay, beat Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, in a special election held June 12, Fitzgerald was criticized for the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate’s perceived lack of enthusiasm for the race. Fitzgerald said then that the reason he hadn’t gone all was to help preserve resources for the fall, when the seat will again be up for election again.

Fitzgerald, a Republican from Juneau, can now to recent campaign-finance reports showing CERS had more than $1.3 million in two bank accounts. The State Senate Democratic Committee, in contrast, had $327,970 in its two accounts.

Fitzgerald tells WisPolitics.com that advantage will help Republicans protect their majority and go on the offense with several seats.

“I believe we’re absolutely coming back with the majority,” Fitzgerald declared. “It’s just a question of how many seats.”

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, a Democrat from La Crosse, downplayed the GOP’s financial advantage after the most recent fundraising period, saying Republicans can’t buy enthusiasm or voters’ trust.

Shilling said Frostman’s victory in the special election last month has given her ammunition to reach out to donors to make sure “Wisconsin is back on the map” nationally as a place for businesses to invest money in. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has listed 17 seats that it will target in an attempt to flip eight legislative chambers throughout the country. That list includes Wisconsin’s 17th Senate District in southwestern Wisconsin, held by Republican Howard Marklein, and 19th Senate District near Appleton, held by Republican Roger Roth.

Shilling, who noted Frostman’s win in the 1st was two weeks before the close of the most recent reporting period, said she’s warned all of her candidates that they will be outspent this fall.

“Money might talk, but it doesn’t vote,” Shilling said. “We are on the offense this year. Republicans have to be on the defensive.”

During the first six months of this year, Fitzgerald transferred $100,000 from his personal campaign account to CERS. CERS also received a $100,000 donation from John Schaffer, who is described in the CERS report as a manager from Chicago, and $18,000 from the campaign account of GOP Sen. Duey Stroebel, appointed by Fitzgerald to the Joint Finance Committee this session. Stroebel filled a vacancy left behind by former state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf when she was appointed secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Together, those three contributions accounted for more than 40 percent of what CERS raised through its main campaign account.

For its part, the SSDC got its biggest donation to its main account — one for $12,000 — from the Wisconsin Laborers District Council.

Fitzgerald used the CERS main account to give $30,000 each to GOP Rep. Kathy Bernier, who got into the race to replace Republican Sen. Terry Moulton after he announced in mid-March he would not seek re-election, and James Bolen, who is challenging Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland.

CERS also made $5,176 worth of in-kind donations to Bernier, who raised $116,306 during the first six months of the year. Of that, $57,176 was from committees. In the second half of 2017, Bernier listed just $515 in receipts.

Bernier’s Democratic rival, Chris Kapsner, an emergency-room doctor, raised $37,985 during the period, including $11,315 from committees.

In the 25th district, Bewley raised $51,809 during the period, more than half of that from committees, and finished the period with $64,415 in the bank. Bolen raised $63,734, including $37,797 from committees, and had $54,345 worth of cash on hand.

Other top Senate races will be in the: 1st, where Frostman has to run again to retain his seat; the Milwaukee-area’s 5th, where GOP state Rep. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield is trying to keep a seat being vacated by GOP U.S. Senate candidate Leah Vukmir; central Wisconsin’s 29th, where Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, is the incumbent; and the 31st, the western Wisconsin seat being given up by Kathleen Vinehout, one of eight Democrats now running for governor.

The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at WisPolitics.com, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

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