Sean Duffy Resigns


 Joe Murray  |    October 14, 2019
Sean Duffy Resigns

On August 26, 2019, Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy announced that he would resign from Congress on September 23, 2019. Citing family considerations, Duffy said in a Facebook post, “Recently, we’ve learned that our baby, due in late October, will need even more love, time, and attention due to complications, including a heart condition. With much prayer, I have decided that this is the right time for me to take a break from public service in order to be the support my wife, baby and family need right now …”

This surprising news set off a scramble among possible candidates to fill the GOP-leaning seat in a special election that must be scheduled by Gov. Tony Evers to complete Duffy’s term. With Duffy out and several possible candidates looking at the race, this article takes a brief look at who is considering getting into this race, the political landscape of the 7th Congressional District, and the political considerations for Evers and Democrats as they consider when to schedule this special election.

Possible candidates: Several candidates have indicated an interest in running for this open seat. On the Republican side, three candidates have already entered the race: State Sen. Tom Tiffany, retired 1st Lt. and Sen. Ron Johnson aide Jason Church, and businessman Michael Opela. The only Democrat considering the race at this time is state Sen. Janet Bewley. By the time this article prints, some of these candidates likely will have decided against running, while others may have entered the race as well. Open congressional seats are rare in Wisconsin and generally draw a crowd, and the open seat in the 7th Congressional District should be no exception.

District landscape: This district is considered a Republican-leaning district by election experts. While the district was represented by Democratic Congressman Dave Obey for 40 years, this rural, northern Wisconsin district has been trending more Republican for 10 years. In 2016, Donald Trump carried this district by 20 points. In 2018, former Gov. Scott Walker carried it by 16 points, and GOP senate candidate Leah Vukmir carried it by four points. While it might be a winnable district for Democrats under very unique circumstances, such a win seems unlikely according to Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “It is the kind of district geographically large, dotted with small towns, overwhelmingly white, and below the national average in four-year college attainment — that has been trending away from Democrats, particularly with Trump leading the way.” Bottom line: Political shockwaves would be felt across the country as well as across Wisconsin if Democrats won this race.

Dates for this special election: Gov. Tony Evers originally set the primary election for Monday, December 30, and the general election for Monday, January 27. Evers drew criticism from Republicans for his decision to hold the special election over the holiday season instead of April 7, 2020, to coincide with Wisconsin’s presidential primary and a state Supreme Court election. By separating the 7th Congressional District special election from the statewide spring election for the state Supreme Court, Democrats hope to keep GOP turnout down in the northern Wisconsin congressional district to benefit the progressive candidate for state Supreme Court next April. Evers rescinded the December and January dates.

Once the governor sets a date for the special election, the WRA will interview the candidates, review their records, and likely make an endorsement recommendation to members in this district. Watch for more information as this race develops.

Wisconsin’s 7th United States Federal Congressional District

The 7th Congressional District, currently vacant with Rep. Duffy’s resignation in September 2019, covers roughly 18,000 square miles in northwestern and central Wisconsin and encompasses 26 counties.

Source: United States Department of the Interior.

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Potential Candidates for the 7th Congressional District

With Rep. Sean Duffy’s resignation from Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, the following candidates have either entered the race or expressed an interest in running to fill the now-open seat. 

This list of potential candidates is current as of press time and is subject to change.

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Joe Murray is Director of Political and Governmental Affairs for the WRA. 

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