Democrats won't have any candidates on the ballot for two eastern Wisconsin congressional districts this year, effectively conceding seats where they were competitive in the not-too-distant past.
In the 8th Congressional District, held by U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, it will be the first time there's not a Democrat on the ballot since Wisconsin changed from nine U.S. House seats to eight after the 2001 round of reapportionment.
In the 6th Congressional District, held by U.S. House Rep. Glenn Grothman, R- Glenbeulah, it will be the first time Democrats haven't fielded a candidate since 2006, when the district was held by longtime Republican incumbent Tom Petri.
Either district would have been an uphill climb for Democrats by the numbers. According to an analysis of Wisconsin's congressional map by Marquette University, each district has a built-in 16-point GOP advantage.
Wisconsin's new congressional map was drawn by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, but the 8th and 6th districts are based largely on the 2011 map drawn by Republicans. Evers drew the map based on an order by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to make the "least changes" to existing congressional districts.
Democrats last held the 8th Congressional District more than a decade ago, when the boundaries were decided by a federal court. Democrat Steve Kagan won the district with about 51 percent of the vote in 2006 and then again with 54 percent in 2008 before losing to Republican Reid Ribble by a 55-45 margin.
After Ribble announced he was leaving office, Gallagher replaced him, winning his first election in 2016 with roughly 63 percent of the vote. Gallagher has never dipped below 60 percent in his three times on the ballot.
While Democrat Robin Kettleson of Appleton filed a declaration of candidacy to run for the 8th Congressional District this year, he confirmed with Wisconsin Public Radio that he did not collect enough signatures to get on the ballot.
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The 6th Congressional District has been in Republican hands for decades after it was passed from Petri to Grothman. Democrats came closest to defeating Grothman in 2018, but he still defeated Democratic challenger Dan Kohl by about a 55-44 margin.
Former Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, who ran for the 6th as a Democrat in 2014, said the district's Republican lean combined with Grothman's incumbency would make it a challenge for any Democrat to win. Money, he said, is also a challenge in the 6th.
"It's difficult because it's in three television markets," Harris. "So it's an expensive place to run."
While no Democrats have filed to run in the 8th or 6th Districts, Gallagher and Grothman both face the prospect of primary challengers.
Republican Shaun Clarmont of Oneida turned in 1,021 signatures to get on the ballot in the 8th Congressional District. A minimum of 1,000 signatures are needed, making Clarmont potentially vulnerable to a challenge of his nomination papers.
In the 6th District, Douglas Mullenix of Menasha filed 1,301 signatures to run as a Republican against Grothman.
The rest of Wisconsin's eight congressional districts are likely to have at least one Democrat and Republican on the ballot.
- In the 1st Congressional District — the only district to get more competitive under the new map — Janesville Democrat Ann Roe is challenging Janesville Republican U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil.
- In the 2nd Congressional District, a Democratic stronghold held by U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan of Dane County, two Republicans — Eric Olsen of Madison and Charity Barry of Mineral Point — have both filed to run.
- Wisconsin's most competitive district in recent years — the 3rd District in Western Wisconsin — has four Democrats vying to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse. They are Deb Baldus McGrath of Menominee, Brad Pfaff of Onalaska, Mark Neumann of La Crosse and Rebecca Cooke of Eau Claire. The winner will take on Republican Derrick Van Orden, who ran in 2020 and came up just short to Kind.
- In another Democratic stronghold — the 4th District — two Republicans have filed signatures to run against Milwaukee U.S. Rep Gwen Moore. Tim Rogers of Milwaukee and Travis Clark of Brown Deer are vying for a district that gives Democrats a built-in 50-point advantage, according to the analysis by Marquette.
- In Wisconsin's most Republican district, the 5th District, U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, faces a challenge from Democrat Mike Van Someren of Pewaukee.
- In the 7th District, another seat held by Democrats a little more than a decade ago, U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, could face a primary challenge from David Kunelius II of Arbor Vitae, who turned in 1,013 nomination signatures. Richard Ausman of Lac du Flambeau is the lone Democratic candidate.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission will meet Friday to consider challenges to nominating petitions, which could knock some candidates off the ballot.