4 Republican Candidates Jockey To Fill Tom Petri’s Seat In Congress

Whoever Wins Primary May Have To Prepare For Expensive General Election Campaign, According To UW-Oshkosh Political Scientist

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, right, has served in Congres for 35 years. Photo: Lester Public Library (CC-BY-NC-SA).

As U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, one of Wisconsin’s longest-serving members of Congress, prepares to step down from his seat in the 6th Congressional District, four Republicans are vying to fill the vacancy.

Three of the four candidates — state Rep. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), state Sens. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) and Glenn Grothman (R-Campbellsport) — serve in the state Legislature. The fourth candidate, Tom Denow, has no political experience.

Stroebel, Leibham, and Grothman faced off in a debate last week in Fond Du Lac, where they touted their conservative records. Grothman said he’s not afraid of controversy, as evidenced by his role in passing the Act 10 bill, which inundated the state Capitol with protestors in 2011. In Congress, he said, he’d target welfare abuse.

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“Welfare is killing this country,” he said. “I have done all these pro-business things, but we are so close to the tipping point in this country where the majority of people are not working and they’re going to vote to support the welfare lifestyle.”

When asked about the GOP’s so called “war on women,” all three candidates denied such an agenda. Stroebel said his anti-abortion views are not anti-woman.

“What if in that womb that little person there is a woman?” said Stroebel. “Is that a war on (women) then?”

Out of the three candidates at the debate, Duey Stroebel has served in the Legislature for the shortest time, just since 2011. He stressed his private-sector experience in real estate, and pledged to reduce federal regulations.

“Right now the reach of government is far beyond what it should be in our personal and private lives,” said Stroebel. “Again, I’m a business man. I’m a private sector person. I’m not a career politician, but I see these things and I’ve also seen that right now we have to get government out of our way.”

Joe Leibham portrayed himself as more of a fiscal than a social conservative.

“$17 trillion in debt is unacceptable,” said Leibham. “I’ll fight for a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution. I’m going to Washington to create an opportunity so businesses and jobs in this nation can succeed by repealing regulations like Obamacare.”

It’s not unusual to see candidates moving to the left or right during a primary, according to David Siemers, the chair of the Political Science Department at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. He said that whoever wins will face a potentially expensive general race, because, he said, the district makes “no geographical sense.”

The 6th Congressional District runs from Lake Michigan west to Dodge and Green Lake counties. It includes Sheboygan, Manitowoc and parts of the Fox Valley.

“Joe Leibham is well known in the eastern part of the district,” said Siemers. “He’s not very well known in the western part of the district. That could also be said of Duey Stroebel.”

Siemers also noted that Grothman moved into the district in order to run, which he said could pose a problem for the senator if people see him as a carpetbagger.

One person who isn’t very well known anywhere in the district is Tom Denow. He’s a retired engine instructor who has also worked in private manufacturing. He said he gets the sense that voters prefer an “outsider” like him rather than a politician.

“I looked into what it takes to get on the ballot, and found out that you could actually become a candidate without spending any money,” he said.

He added: “To actually get your name out there, it does take a lot of money. To me that was a little bit of a challenge.”

The winner of Tuesday’s primary election will go on to face the only Democrat in the race, Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris.