Aug. 28, 2019 — Five-term Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wausau) announced Monday that he is resigning from Congress effective Sept. 23. Rep. Duffy indicated his reason for leaving mid-term is that his wife and his expectant child, their ninth, has already been diagnosed with challenging health issues.
Therefore, his 7th Congressional District will go to special election once Gov. Tony Evers (D) sets the schedule. The congressional vote will likely coincide with the state’s spring election, where statewide and district judges are on the ballot and many localities use the dates to hold their own elections. The Wisconsin calendar pinpoints the Spring Primary for Feb. 18, 2020, while the Spring General election will run concurrently with the Wisconsin presidential primary on April 7.
The Badger State’s 7th CD occupies a full quarter of the state’s land area, beginning on the shores of Lake Superior and stretching to Buckhorn State Park close to Wisconsin’s center. The district covers a large land mass and is populated with small towns spread throughout the 26 counties that it covers or touches. WI-7 contains 21 whole counties and parts of five others. Its largest city, Wausau, which is Congressman Duffy’s hometown, has just under 40,000 people.
The district’s electorate now votes solidly Republican but, before Rep. Duffy was elected in 2010, this seat remained in Democratic hands for 41 consecutive years in the person of former Rep. David Obey (D) who first won in a 1969 special election and retired in the 2010 cycle. The district’s pre-Obey history, however, was solidly Republican. A member of the GOP had represented the seat for 82 of its first 96 years of existence.
Since the Duffy resignation was unexpected, no potential successors are being discussed, but that situation will quickly change.
Eight state Senate seats overlay the 7th District, five that Republicans currently represent as compared to three for the Democrats. Three of the districts, two Republican and one Democratic, have small crossover populations; therefore, of the five state Senate seats that have between 94-172,000 WI-7 constituents, Republicans represent three and Democrats two. In the state Assembly, 19 districts are wholly or partially contained within the 7th CD. All but two are in Republican hands.
Both parties will have multiple state legislators who could jump into the special election campaign, as well as legions of local officials who represent more than one hundred small communities that stretch throughout the expansive district.
President Trump carried the 7th with a 58-37 percent margin in 2016. Four years earlier, Mitt Romney eked out only a 51-48 percent win against President Obama, while in 2008 then-Sen. Obama outpaced John McCain, 53-45 percent.
The presidential vote tracks the district electorate’s rightward move, which now seems locked into place. Even when losing his campaign for a third term last November, then-Gov. Scott Walker (R) carried the 7th CD over current Gov. Evers, 57-41 percent. Though Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) won re-election with a 55-45 percent vote spread, she lost the 7th by a 52-48 percent margin.
The Duffy resignation means there will be 17 open US House seats during the election cycle, 14 from the Republican column. Of the GOP opens, six appear highly competitive at this point. The same can be said for none of the three Democratic seats, with only Iowa Rep. David Loebsack’s 2nd District as potentially competitive.