MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Democratic president of the Wausau School Board announced Monday that she is running for Congress in her heavily Republican northern Wisconsin district, in a race that could provide an early signal of voter moods ahead of next fall’s presidential election.
Tricia Zunker, a justice on the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court, is trying to become the first Native American elected to Congress from Wisconsin.
Zunker is running in the 7th Congressional District, which had been represented by Republican Sean Duffy from 2011 until last month when he quit to spend time with his family ahead of the birth of his ninth daughter. A special election to fill the seat will be early next year, but Gov. Tony Evers has yet to set the date.
There are now five candidates who have entered the race — three Republicans and two Democrats. The other Democrat, self-employed insurance broker and Vietnam veteran Lawrence Dale, also announced his candidacy on Monday. The Republicans running are state Sen. Tom Tiffany , former U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson aide Jason Church and political newcomer Michael Opela.
Tiffany and Church have both closely aligned themselves with Trump, even as House Democrats proceed with impeachment proceedings against him. But the newly announced Democratic candidates were split over impeachment.
Impeachment wasn’t mentioned in Zunker’s news release announcing her candidacy and it doesn’t appear on her newly launched campaign website. In an interview, she said she is more focused on issues like affordable health care, helping struggling small farmers and protecting the environment.
Zunker also said impeachment didn’t need to be discussed in the special election campaign because it will be “long resolved” by the time the winner takes office sometime early next year. She also said she supports the impeachment investigation, but she stopped short of saying whether she thinks Trump should be removed from office.
“I do believe public servants, they take an oath and they must uphold that oath and that is to the Constitution,” she said.
Zunker’s Democratic challenger, Dale, took a different tact, saying he thinks that Trump should be impeached and removed from office.
“We’re at a critical juncture in our nation right now,” he said at a news conference in the state Capitol, which is not in the 7th District.
Dale said he sells health insurance in northern Wisconsin but currently lives in Michigan. He said he planned to move to northern Wisconsin “in the legal sense for the purposes of this special election in due course” to qualify for the special election.
The race will serve as a barometer in a deeply Republican district months before the November 2020 presidential election. Trump won Wisconsin by less than a point in 2016, but he carried the 7th District by 20 points.
Wisconsin’s sprawling 7th District covers all or part of 20 northern and northwestern Wisconsin counties, and it is the state’s largest congressional district geographically. The district was made more favorable for Republicans following redistricting, and it has also grown more conservative.
In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney carried the district with 51% of the vote, compared with 48% that went to then-President Barack Obama. In 2016, Trump won it by 57% to 37% over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Wisconsin’s governor is considering holding the special election primary on either Feb. 4 or Feb. 18, with the general election on either April 7 or May 5.