By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Tom Tiffany, a Republican state Senator, defeated the veteran Jason Church in their party’s primary to fill Sean Duffy’s incomplete 7th District term. Tiffany will face Tricia Zunker, a Democrat who won her own primary, in a May 12 special election.
Tiffany easily dispatched Church, a retired Army captain, on Tuesday. Tiffany will now vie with Zunker, president of the Wausau school board. to replace Duffy, who represented the 7th District for nearly eight years before retiring this past September to spend more time with his family. He and his wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy, were reality-TV personalities who met on MTV’s “The Real World.”
Outside groups spent at a record clip on behalf of both Church and Tiffany, making their race the most expensive congressional primary in state history.
Tiffany is running as a proven conservative who voted as a member of the Legislature to advance Walker’s agenda, including his signature law that ended collective bargaining for public workers. He also was the author of a bill that relaxed the state’s iron-mining regulations, drawing the ire of environmentalists.
Tiffany tied himself closely to President Donald Trump, who carried the 7th by 20 points in 2016. He’ll be a heavy favorite in May.
Tiffany issued a statement after the race was called, saying he’ll bring some “Wisconsin common sense” to Washington for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“President Trump needs strong reinforcements in Congress who will work to stop socialism and defend freedom,” Tiffany said. “I’m running for Congress to keep America great.”
Zunker, who doubles as a justice on the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court, is looking to become the first American Indian to represent Wisconsin in Congress.
She said in a telephone interview that she’s the best candidate for the job, promising that “I am fully ready to represent everybody, not just the people who identify with me politically.”
Whoever wins the contest will have to run for re-election in November.
Meanwhile, the incumbent Justice Dan Kelly and Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky emerged from a three-way state Supreme Court primary Tuesday, besting Marquette University law professor Ed Fallone to advance to the general election in April.
Kelly took about 50% of the vote, and Karofsky got about 37%. The contest is officially nonpartisan but Kelly is part of the court’s five-member conservative majority. Republicans have thrown their support behind him after then-Gov. Scott Walker appointed him to the bench in 2016 to replace Justice David Prosser after he retired.
Karofsky is a Dane County judge who worked as a crime-victim advocate for the state Justice Department. Liberals have thrown their support behind her.
The race has been marked by Kelly’s and Karofsky’s acrimony. Karofsky has accused Kelly of being corrupt, saying he constantly rules in favor of conservative groups. Kelly has insisted that he uses “rigorous logic” to arrive at his rulings and said Karofsky is slandering him.
Kelly built an enormous fund-raising advantage over both challengers, generating nearly $1 million in the past 13 months. Karofsky raised almost $414,000 during that span. Fallone had just under $172,000.
The race won’t change the court’s leaning but a defeat of Kelly would shave the conservative majority to 4-3 and give liberals a chance to take over in 2023.
Jaylin Allen-Wallace, a 21-year-old Madison restaurant worker, voted for Karofsky. She said Karofsky is dedicated to upholding civil rights and women’s rights. She liked Fallone, too, but “I went with someone who has a chance of winning (against Kelly),” she said.
Kelly will go into the general election at a disadvantage. The election falls on the same day as Wisconsin’s presidential primary, when large numbers of Democrats are expected to head to the polls.
Karofsky said in a phone interview that it doesn’t matter what day the general election falls on and she’ll keep working to win every vote she can.
“It is really clear from the results tonight that people are excited about our campaign and our energy and they want to stop corruption on the state Supreme Court,” she said.
Kelly’s campaign manager, Charles Nichols, didn’t immediately return a message. Kelly released a statement saying that the primary results show Wisconsin residents are intent on upholding the rule of law on the Supreme Court.
Voters also winnowed the field Tuesday in a pair of primaries for an open seat in northern Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District.