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Republicans vying for state attorney general tout conservative bona fides, prosecutorial experience

Fond du Lac District Attorney Eric Toney, former State Rep. Adam Jarchow, Chippewa Falls Attorney Karen Mueller vying to take on Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul

A sign that says "VOTING ENTRANCE"
Voters walk to an early voting location Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, at Waukesha City Hall. Angela Major/WPR

The primary race for Wisconsin Attorney General has come down to a debate over conservative bona fides, prosecutorial experience and relitigating the 2020 presidential election. Three GOP candidates are taking very different approaches as they court voters heading to the polls Tuesday.

Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, Balsam Lake attorney and former state Rep. Adam Jarchow and Chippewa Falls attorney Karen Mueller are hoping they have the winning pitch in the GOP primary to take on Democratic Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul in November’s general election.

During the campaign, Toney touted nearly a decade of experience as a district attorney in Fond du Lac County along with endorsements from more than 100 sheriffs, district attorneys and police chiefs around Wisconsin.

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During a July primary debate moderated by conservative Milwaukee radio host Dan O’Donnell, Toney cut to the chase, saying he’s the only candidate in the race who has prosecuted a criminal case.

“We need a prosecutor, not a politician to right the mess Josh Kaul has created,” said Toney. “We don’t have time for on-the-job training.”

Jarchow has taken a more political approach in his campaign for Wisconsin’s top cop position. He’s framed the attorney general race as a national battle between good and evil, with Democrats representing the latter.

“We have Marxist Democrats who are leading our country and our state off the cliff. This is not your dad or your granddad’s Democrat Party,” Jarchow said during the July 20 debate.

Mueller’s campaign has focused more on fringe issues popular with far-right conservatives. Her campaign website says she got into the race to seek justice for people “who believed their loved one was murdered or being murdered by the hospital” throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another pillar of Mueller’s campaign has been the decertification of the 2020 presidential election, which legal experts have said is impossible. In November 2020, she filed a lawsuit with the Wisconsin Supreme Court asking justices to throw out election results she alleged were tainted by the use of ballot drop boxes throughout the state.

“It’s very important to understand that this has been a fight that has been going on for over a year and a half now,” said Muller during the debate. “And we just recently got to the truth, when the Supreme Court said that they were illegal.”

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of drop boxes grew dramatically. While the state’s high court ruled the use of boxes are illegal, it did not say the same about 2020 ballots collected in those boxes.

President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes — a margin similar to several other razor-thin statewide elections in recent years.

Toney and Jarchow have directly attacked one another during the attorney general primary race.

Jarchow has repeatedly chastised Toney for not being conservative enough. His campaign has pointed out leaked text messages, in which Toney criticized former President Donald Trump; and Jarchow has accused Toney of voting for Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

Jarchow has also gone after Toney for prosecuting business owners in 2020 for defying Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ COVID-19 “Safer at Home” order, which was ultimately overturned by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Toney, has gone after Jarchow for being a political opportunist with no prosecutorial experience. He’s also accused Jarchow of running a “gutter campaign.”

All the primary candidates for attorney general have campaigned on being tough on crime.

Toney has called for changing state law to give the attorney general office “original prosecution authority” over Milwaukee County to take over cases that Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm is “unable or unwilling to prosecute.”

Jarchow has touted his votes in the state Legislature for bills supported by law enforcement including a constitutional amendment that would require judges to consider “the need to protect members of the community from serious harm or prevent the intimidation of witnesses” when setting bail.

The Wisconsin Assembly passed the constitutional amendment in February, but it did not pass in the state Senate.

The winner of Tuesday’s GOP primary will go up against current Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who is running his first reelection campaign.

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