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Open Wisconsin GOP Seat Shifts to Tossup

Democrats’ get their preferred candidate to challenge Republicans

Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., is retiring at the end of this Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., is retiring at the end of this Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson has announced his candidacy , giving Democrats their preferred choice for picking up retiring GOP Rep. Reid Ribble’s open seat in Wisconsin’s 8th District.  

In an initial analysis of the race in the Feb. 5 issue of The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report , GOP sources admitted that Nelson would be a formidable foe. And the competitive nature of the district and potential drag from the top of the ticket — likely from either Donald Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — puts this race firmly into play.  

We’re changing the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rating from Republican Favored to Pure Tossup.  

Also see: Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call Race Ratings map
Nelson, the former state Assembly majority leader who also ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor, wasn’t guaranteed to run for Congress. He is also viewed as a potential candidate for governor in 2018. But unlike the district’s previous Democratic congressman, Steve Kagen, Nelson has an extensive voting record to be examined and litigated by Republicans. Kagen was a doctor.  

Republicans are headed for a competitive primary on Aug. 9 between former Foreign Relations Committee staffer and Scott Walker foreign policy aide Mike Gallagher and state Sen. Frank Lasee. The filing deadline is June 1.  

Based on the 2008 presidential results, the 8th District appears to be a promising Democratic takeover opportunity. President Barack Obama carried the northeastern Wisconsin district, which includes Green Bay and Appleton, by 9 points in 2008.  

But Ribble defeated Kagen 55-45 percent in 2010. Two years later, the GOP’s Mitt Romney carried the district by 4 points in the presidential election. Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson won it by 3 points in the Senate race, even though both men lost statewide by sizable margins.  

Correction, April 12 as of 1:19 p.m.:  This story has been corrected to reflect that Nelson’s role in the Wisconsin Assembly was that of majority leader.  

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