Special election for 7th Congressional race unchanged; Tiffany outpaces Zunker in fundraising at $1.2 million

Published: Apr. 16, 2020 at 6:00 PM CDT
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In-person voting is still on for the May 12 special election to fill former Congressman Sean Duffy’s seat in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional district, after Governor Tony Evers extended the Safer at Home order through May 26.

Evers’ legal counsel Ryan Nilsestuen said in a press conference Thursday that they are keeping a close eye on the upcoming race after a chaotic spring general election, but concerns are not as high due to the rural makeup of the district combined with an expected low turnout.

“The 7th congressional district has a lower rate overall of people who tested positive for COVID-19,” Nilsestuen said. “So while it’s still definitely a concern, it’s not the same level of concern as we saw in the spring election in other parts of the state.”

According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association’s

tracking COVID-19, there’s been a combined 139 positive cases in the north central and western regions of the state (roughly 26 of those cases fall outside the congressional district where voting would take place, notably in the city of Eau Claire and Portage County). In that region, there have been two deaths in Iron and Marathon counties. Many of those tests occurred under DHS guidelines recommending that only health care workers and hospitalized patients be prioritized for testing, recommendations that have been significantly expanded in recent days as private and public labs around the state increase capabilities.

“We’ve had a lot more time to prepare for the 7th Congressional district race,” Nilsestuen. “Folks have had a lot more time in order to request an absentee ballot and get it submitted.”

The race pits Republican state senator Tom Tiffany against Wausau school board president and Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court associate justice Tricia Zunker on the Democrat ticket. The seat, held for almost ten years by Duffy, is rated solidly Republican on the Cook Political Report, voting for President Donald Trump by 20 points in the 2016 election. The district was previously represented by Democrat Dave Obey for almost forty years before he retired, and its legislative maps redrawn after the 2010 census.

After a contested GOP primary race that attracted millions in outside spending, Tiffany raised nearly $500,000 since February according to FEC filings, bringing his total campaign fundraising to about $1.2 million. Zunker has raised in total about $300,000, with about half of that coming since February.

Democrat senator Tammy Baldwin endorsed Zunker in a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon, and called for a mail-only election. “I am pleased today to offer my enthusiastic endorsement to Tricia Zunker,” Baldwin said. “Tricia has served her communities in so many different ways.”

Tiffany issued a statement calling Evers’ decision to extend the Safer at Home order ‘reckless’, saying the governor’s decisions were ‘destroying our state’, and called for a measured reopening of the state.

Both candidates have moved their campaigns to virtual platforms, with Zunker holding virtual listening sessions around the state. Tiffany released another TV ad Thursday morning, showing the candidate in his home, and has used his social media platforms to ask for support for small businesses during the Safer at Home order.

While results in the April 7 state Supreme Court election showed a statewide shift left when compared to the Supreme Court race in 2019, counties in the 7th congressional district largely maintained Republican majorities,

Unofficial results in St. Croix and Marathon counties, the two largest population centers in the district, show conservative-backed justice Daniel Kelly taking one- and six-point leads there while ultimately losing the race to liberal-backed candidate Jill Karofsky by 10 points statewide.