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State Rep. Brandtjen — who called for decertifying 2020 presidential election — is joining race for state senate

Janel Brandtjen competing against GOP State Rep. Dan Knodl for state senate seat held by Republicans for 30 years

Janel Brandtjen sits behind a microphone.
Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, center, speaks as former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman presents a report to the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

A Republican lawmaker who called for decertifying the 2020 presidential election and was expelled from private GOP Assembly meetings this year has announced a run for state Senate.

State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, launched a campaign website Monday seeking nomination signatures for the 8th State Senate district located in suburban Milwaukee. The seat has been held for 30 years by State. Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who announced her retirement Nov. 24.

Brandtjen’s website describes her as a “principled and consistent social and fiscal conservative” and small business owner. It lists legislation she authored aimed at ending backlogs of sexual assault evidence kids, combating human trafficking and truth-in-sentencing.

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Since 2021, Brandtjen has used her position as chair of the Assembly Elections Committee to elevate 2020 election conspiracies. She called for overturning the 2020 election in which President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump, issuing a statement in July saying the election should be decertified and saying, “Tyranny is at Wisconsin’s door.”

Trump endorsed Brandtjen’s reelection for Assembly a month before.

“She (Brandtjen) has been the most courageous member of the Assembly and provided the platform for the investigation into the Rigged and Stolen 2020 Presidential Election,” Trump’s statement said.

Brandtjen’s state Senate campaign website strikes a softer tone on elections, only mentioning that following the 2020 elections, “Janel spotlighted a variety of needed election integrity and bureaucratic reforms as the Chair of the Campaigns and Elections Committee and the Vice-Chair of the Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight.”

Brandtjen ran afoul of Republican leadership in the Assembly this year when she campaigned for Republican Adam Steen who also received a Trump endorsement and came within 260 votes of defeating Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in an August primary.

A week after the election, Brandtjen was blocked from attending GOP Assembly caucus meetings.

“Removing me from caucus will not stop the ongoing voting issues that plague our state, but it does prove that many members of the caucus are willing to ignore their constituents to stay in good standing with caucus leadership and keep their committee chairmanships,” said a statement from Brandtjen following her expulsion.

Brandtjen is expected to face fellow State Rep. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, who announced his bid for Darling’s Senate seat on Dec. 1. Knodl is seen as an establishment GOP candidate focused on “runaway inflation, attacks on parental rights and efforts to defund our police,” according to a campaign statement.

“As State Senator, I will vote to support law enforcement, expand educational opportunities, roll back bureaucratic overreach, and pursue continued tax reform,” Knodl said.

John Johnson, a research fellow at Marquette University’s Lubar Center for Public Policy Research, told Wisconsin Public Radio that while the 8th State Senate District favors Republicans, it is changing. Johnson said former Republican Gov. Scott Walker won a 2012 recall election in the district with 67 percent of the vote using current voting boundaries. He said in 2018, Walker’s share of the vote was down to 60 percent.

Johnson said on Nov. 8, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels, who was also endorsed by Trump, received just under 52 percent of the vote.

“So it’s still a Republican seat, and the winner of the Republican primary will be the de facto favorite for that reason in the general in the special election,” Johnson said. “But I think Democrats are going to take it very seriously for that reason, because the seat has trended towards them over time, and they just had really quite a good result in the 2022 governor’s race.”

As of Monday, no Democrats have publicly announced plans to run for Darling’s senate seat.

Republicans closely tied with Trump have been losing support in suburban areas, said Barry Burden, a political science professor and director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Elections Research Center. He said that goes for the 8th Sen. district as well.

“Now, I think the party has become somewhat concerned about Trump’s presence in the party, given how the Republicans did in this midterm election,” Burden said. “But there still is a lot of enthusiasm for him among the base, especially the activists who turn out in primaries and who give money to candidates.”

More broadly, Burden said election deniers running for statewide office in swing states this year were roundly defeated in November.

“But Brandtjen will be running in a district that is a little redder than the state as a whole. And so there might still be room for someone with her profile to be successful,” Burden said.

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