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Mike Gallagher’s decision not to seek reelection leaves seat wide open

Republicans, Democrats eye potential run for 8th Congressional District

state Sen. Roger Roth
Republican state Sen. Roger Roth Photo courtesy of Roger Roth campaign

Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher’s decision not to seek reelection has potential candidates lining up to take his place.

One Republican has already announced plans to run for the seat, and at least two more are considering runs. On the Democratic side, at least three candidates are contemplating joining the race.

The Green Bay Republican’s 8th Congressional District has been red for more than a decade. The last time a Democrat won an 8th District seat was in 2008, and Gallagher received at least 60 percent of the vote in each general election he ran, according to Ballotpedia.

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Mordecai Lee, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a former state legislator, said though a redistricting  case looking at the state’s congressional districts has been submitted to the state Supreme Court, it’s unclear if the court will take up the case. Under the current maps, Lee said the 8th District has a built-in GOP advantage.

“This is clearly a solid Republican district, and for a member of the Democratic Party to have a chance of winning it in the November election would really require a real tidal wave of public opinion shifting,” he said.

Who are the GOP candidates?

On Saturday, the same day Gallagher announced he would not seek reelection, former state Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, said he would run for the 8th District seat

In a statement, Roth said he’d push back against President Joe Biden’s handling of the southern border, the economy and foreign policy. Roth also said he supports former President Donald Trump’s bid to return to the White House.

“We have seen what failure looks like and we know the first step is getting our economy back on track, securing peace and prosperity for generations to come means defeating Joe Biden and the Democrats,” he said in a statement. “As goes Northeast Wisconsin, so does the state.”

Roth ran for the seat in 2010, but lost in the primary election to Republican Reid Ribble. He ran for lieutenant governor in 2022, but lost to Democrat Sara Rodriguez.

State Sen. André Jacque, R-DePere, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that running for the 8th District seat is “certainly something I’ll take a hard look at.”

Trump-ally Alex Bruesewitz, a Ripon native who has lived in Florida since 2019, is also contemplating seeking the position. He told WPR he would move back to Wisconsin if he decides to go forward with the plan.

Bruesewitz said he’s already had early conversations with local GOP chairs in the 8th District.

“I feel like a lot of the Wisconsin issues are also national issues — if you look at immigration, if you look at protecting jobs (and) bringing jobs back,” he said. “I have a great relationship with President Trump.”

Bruesewitz has been an outspoken critic of the 2020 election. He said Monday he still believes Trump won, but he wouldn’t make it part of a possible campaign message. Multiple court decisions and recounts found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election.

“I was an early supporter of the MAGA movement. I got retweeted by President Trump for the first time when I was 17 years old,” Bruesewitz said.

Lee said a Republican primary for Gallagher’s seat could hinge on GOP candidates appealing to the party’s base. 

“Based on current political dynamics within the Republican Party, there might be competition for who is the most supportive of President Trump, especially if ex-President Trump becomes the Republican nominee for president,” he said. “They might be competing for the Trump vote.”

Who could run as a Democrat?

Following Gallagher’s announcement, Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesperson Joe Oslund issued a statement saying the state party looks forward to competing for the seat. 

Three women are considering running as Democrats. They include former journalist Kelly Peterson, Navy veteran Alicia Saunders and obstetrician gynecologist Dr. Kristin Lyerly.

Peterson and Saunders could not be reached for comment Monday. But Lyerly said all three are in the process of deciding whether to run. She said they are waiting to see what happens with Wisconsin’s state legislative maps

“Some of us may run for Assembly, some of us may run for (state) Senate,” Lyerly said. “One of us is definitely going to run for this congressional seat.”

Lyerly said she got involved in politics in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic because she felt politicians were spreading misinformation about the virus. As a medical professional, she said, she felt she could no longer stand on the sidelines.

She ran for an Assembly position in 2020, but lost to incumbent state Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview. Since then, Lyerly said she’s been active in supporting other Democratic campaigns.

Lyerly said she is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s pre-Civil War abortion law.

“I came to realize that politics is a big part of the health care that women can receive,” she said.

Lyerly also said she worries a GOP win would push the district farther to the right than it was during Gallagher’s time representing northeast Wisconsin.

“These MAGA extremists know that their political lives are tied to Donald Trump, but the people are sick of it,” she said.

While Democrats may face an uphill battle, Lee said abortion may play a key role in giving them a chance to compete, as it did in the 2022 midterms and the election of state Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz.

“There are plenty of times in American politics, in Wisconsin politics, where the underdog wins,” he said. “Even though I think it’s fair to say that this is a Republican district, I don’t think that people who are considering running on the Democratic side should be discouraged from doing it.”