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Tom Tiffany wins GOP primary to replace Sean Duffy

Republicans favored to hold northern Wisconsin seat in May special election

State Sen. Tom Tiffany has won the Republican primary for the special election in Wisconsin’s 7th District to replace former Rep. Sean P. Duffy, who resigned in September. 

Tiffany was leading Army veteran Jason Church 58 percent to 42 percent when The Associated Press called the race with 49 percent of precincts reporting. Tiffany will face Democrat Tricia Zunker, who led with 88 percent of the primary vote. 

Tiffany is favored in the May 12 general election, although the district has backed Democrats in the past. Democrat David R. Obey represented the seat for more than four decades until Duffy flipped it in 2010, but the expansive northern Wisconsin district has since shifted to the right. President Donald Trump carried it by 20 points in 2016, and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the special election Solid Republican.

Duffy, who resigned late last year after learning his ninth child would be born with a heart condition, had endorsed Tiffany in the primary, which attracted plenty of attention from outside groups. Tiffany was backed by a unique coalition of groups, including the Club for Growth, the House Freedom Caucus and the Chamber of Commerce. Church had support from the bipartisan With Honor Fund, which supports veterans running for office, and from a new group called Americans 4 Security PAC.

The Club for Growth was one of the top outside groups in the primary, spending nearly $818,000 on the race, according to Federal Election Commission documents. In the final days of the primary, the club launched a negative ad against Church, who lost both of his legs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. The ad knocked Church for donating to New York Democratic Rep. Max Rose’s campaign last cycle. Rose, also an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, flipped a Republican House seat in 2018 and is one of the most vulnerable House lawmakers in 2020.

Tiffany was elected to the state Senate in 2012 after a term in the state Assembly. He was a staunch ally of former Gov. Scott Walker, who endorsed him in the race. Before joining politics, Tiffany was a small-business owner and ran a wilderness cruise business. He grew up on a dairy farm and has an agriculture degree from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. 

Tiffany said in a recent primary debate on Wisconsin Public Radio that he was running for Congress “to defend freedom and stop socialism.”

“Our way of life is under attack by elites out in Washington, D.C.,” he said, adding that he helped cut the state’s budget deficit with Walker in the state Legislature. “I want to take that same Wisconsin common sense to Washington D.C.” 

Zunker, who is hoping to be Wisconsin’s first Native American member of Congress, is president of the Wausau school board and an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Several labor unions, including the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, had endorsed her in her primary.

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