Democrats hold a two-seat majority in the state Senate. Republicans need to win three seats next week in order to take the lead. They're targeting a freshman democrat who won her seat in last year's recall election. The 18th District encompasses Fond Du Lac and Oshkosh.
The 18th district also includes rural areas and smaller cities like Rosendale and Waupun--home of unionized state prison guards.
For the last fourteen months the district has been represented by Democrat Jessica King, a small business owner who spoke last week before Vice President Joe Biden's appearance in Oshkosh, "And for me as someone who started out with two disabled parents, a participant of the foster care program, a ward of the state at 15. A 17 year old juice box factory worker, you know who I am today? I'm the state Senator."
In her time in office King says she's worked with Republicans on more than 200 issues. Still, Republicans see the district as winnable because it has a long history of sending their party members to Madison.
James Simmons is a political scientist at UW Oshkosh. He says the 18th is one of three senate seats the state GOP is targeting, "If King is elected and the Democrats manage to hold two other seats--the 12th and the 30th--then the Republicans will be in the minority. The Senate will be divided. Much less likely the governor will get all that he wants."
The Republican candidate is Rick Gudex who's a manager at Brenner Tank in Fond Du Lac. Simmons says the challenger has vowed to support Gov. Scott Walker's political agenda, "If you feel that Act 10 and other policies Gov. Walker was able to enact the last time around then you can expect the mine, venture capital and a number of other issues to be on the agenda."
For his part, Rick Gudex agrees---to a point, "My ideologies follow closely with Gov. Walker. But I'm my own independent person and I'll have some issues I like to talk about. And there'll be discussions. But whatever works for the citizens of district 18 are the issues we'll move forward."
Both Gudex and Jessica King have public service records. Gudex served on the Fond Du Lac City Council, King on the Oshkosh Council. She was also deputy mayor of the city before heading to the Senate.
Though they have similar backgrounds the two have very different standpoints on things like Wisconsin's defeated mining bill aimed at bringing a taconite mine to northern Wisconsin.
Gudex says the bill would have helped manufacturers in the Fox Valley. Like Oshkosh Corporation which announced 450 impending layoffs last week. He says he's for Wisconsin's mining industry, "It has the ability to create thousands of jobs. We cannot afford to sit by the wayside and allow opportunities like this to pass us by. The economic impact to the Fox Valley would have been huge, this is a manufacturing belt."
King has come under attack from third party groups running ads accusing her of casting the deciding vote to defeat the mining bill. She says she supported a different version, "The Assembly version of the bill actually reduced the amount of funds that would go to local communities to help them maintain their infrastructure. Further the assembly version of the bill would have made it ok to fill in trout streams and navigable waters. Let's face it we have a sportsmen economy in the north and we can't pursue policies that trade one job for another job."
Both candidates must purchase ad time in the competitive Green Bay media market which has some of the heaviest political advertising in the nation. Third party groups are also spending.