State Senator’s Contentious Politics Are At Fore In Congressional Race

Democrat Mark Harris Says Sen. Glenn Grothman Is Too Conservative Even For Republican-Leaning District

Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, left, and State Sen. Glenn Grothman. Photos courtesy of candidate's Facebook pages.

Update: The second debate between Glenn Grothman and Mark Harris is now over. Click here for a recap of what happened.

The two candidates running for Wisconsin’s only open Congressional seat will face off in their second debate on Thursday, in a race that has notably featured a candidate that Democrats have contended is too conservative even for a Republican-leaning district.

Republican Tom Petri has represented the 6th Congressional District since Jimmy Carter was president. But shortly after Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman announced he would run for Petri’s seat, the moderate Petri decided to retire.

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Grothman — who won his current southeastern Wisconsin Senate seat 10 years ago by defeating incumbent moderate Republican Mary Panzer — narrowly won the Republican congressional primary two months ago against three other candidates. Democrats quickly began issuing press releases highlighting some of the controversial statements Grothman had made during 20 years in the state Legislature — statements about equal pay for women, restricting abortion, immigrants, the Martin Luther King state holiday and other topics.

Last month, the Fond du Lac Rotary Club held the first debate between Grothman and his Democratic opponent Mark Harris. Grothman tried to downplay the colorful quotes he’s made in Madison, and focused instead on what he sees as the next obstacle to his plan to support businesses and curb affirmative action and welfare programs: federal bureaucracy.

“I’d like to go to Washington, and deal with other problems that I can’t address in the state Legislature — go after these regulations, go after the bad business climate we have in this nation, and improve things there,” said Grothman

Mark Harris is executive of Winnebago County, which includes Oshkosh. He said during his three terms, he’s balanced budgets and reduced spending, and that he wants to propose reasonable solutions to the nation’s problems.

My basic philosophy is mirrored by something that President Kennedy once said: Don’t look for the Republican answer. Don’t look for the Democratic answer. Look for the right answer,” said Harris.

Harris and Grothman have also been out separately speaking to smaller groups. This week, at a senior home in Mequon, Mark Harris told roughly 30 people about his hopes for a modest increase in the minimum wage, to leave women in control of their health care decisions, to help college students struggling with loans and protect Social Security by raising the amount of income subject to Social Security taxes.

It’s a platform that sounds good to Mequon resident Jack Prater, who used to vote Republican but more recently has sided with Democrats. Prater said he sees Harris as someone who can be bipartisan.

“Anyone who has a record in which they’re saying they can work with other parties, and will want to try to work with other parties, and have proven in the past that they can work with other parties — anyone in that situation deserves our vote,” said Prater.

Harris didn’t win over everyone at the Mequon event. Businessman David Charne said he’s leaning toward Grothman because of the Republican’s opposition to raising the minimum wage and general pro-business agenda. Charne said he doesn’t agree with everything Grothman has said.

At the end of the day he’s going to represent … the people in the district, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to represent all the ideals that I represent,” said Charne.

Harris has about 10 days left to both pick up support from centrists who are uncomfortable with Grothman and energize progressives in the district.

Meanwhile the Fond du Lac Reporter reported on Tuesday that Petri — who won the district by 87,000 votes two years ago — would not be endorsing Grothman in the race for his old seat.

Libertarian Gus Fahrendorf of Neenah is also on next month’s ballot with a campaign theme of more freedom and less government, and a pledge to seal U.S. borders.