Who is winning the Wisconsin 7th District special election in 2020? After May 12, 2020, we will all know the answer together.
In the meantime, read up on what’s happening in this race and who we expect to win.
Wisconsin 7th District Special Election Results
Tom Tiffany (R) has held this seat for the Republicans. He has taken 57 percent to Tricia Zunker’s 43 percent.
Zunker netted a swing to blue of about three and a half percent, but nowhere near enough to overturn a 21-point deficit Democrats had in the district last time. The only three counties Zunker carried border Lake Superior: Douglas, Bayfield, and Ashland; she took over 60 percent in each. Tiffany carried Zunker’s home county of Marathon with 57 percent of the vote.
Tom Tiffany’s best county was Taylor County, where he received 73 percent of the vote.
A win is a win for the Republicans here in the 7th, who turned out to have a very good special election night overall. Tiffany’s win was expected, with Democrats not having been competitive in this district for almost all of the 2010s.
Reading too much into the swing to the Democrats here does not make sense. Zunker was a decent candidate for her party, running in an unfavorable district. However, with special election turnout often being unpredictable and unrepresentative of a general election, a wobble of a few points here or there is not big news. She did about as well as could be expected by improving the Democratic vote, but especially with Trump on the ballot in November, there’s only so much more she can expect to do in the Fall election.
2020 Wisconsin 7th District Special Election Background
Following the retirement of longtime representative Dave Obey (D), former reality television star Sean Duffy (R) got into the race and won the 7th District in 2010. In 2019, after being elected five times to this seat, Duffy decided to resign as a result of family health matters requiring his personal attention. The seat was vacated in September 2019 when his resignation became official.1
Since his initial win in 2010, Duffy did not have a difficult re-election run in the 7th District.
Facts and Notes: Wisconsin’s Congressional 7th District
Much of northern Wisconsin is contained within this district. Wausau is one of the main population centers of the 7th, while the seat stretches from the Minnesota border with Duluth out to the UP of Michigan, and down into central Wisconsin. It is by far the largest congressional district in the state.
While you may think of this as a Republican area today, Democrats dominated this seat for a long time. First elected in 1969, Dave Obey represented northern Wisconsin in the US House until he retired at the 2010 election. The Republicans picked up the seat in the Tea Party Wave and have held it ever since. It was one of a net gain of 63 GOP seats in that election year.
This district also swung hard to Donald Trump, who won here by double-digits after Barack Obama carried it twice.
2018 WI-07 District Results
Sean Duffy was re-elected during the Blue Wave election without much difficulty, suffering a swing against of less than one percent but still taking over 60 percent of the vote.
Wisconsin 7th District Prediction
This looks like a safe Republican seat to us. We will soon find out if Tom Tiffany has the same kind of pull for the GOP that his predecessor did. Yet, consider how Trump-positive this district is/was and how little trouble Duffy had in 2018 when Democrats were smoking Republicans all over the country. Old-school Democrat Dave Obey bagging election win after election win in this part of Wisconsin seems like a distant memory now.
Losing this one would be especially bitter for the GOP considering it’s been a steady performer for them since 2010, and Democrats and their supporters are not pouring much into this race.2 They are instead focusing on playing defense in the California 25th District, which votes in a special election on the same day. Short of an undetected seismic shift in this race – and how would we know: there’s no polling – expect Tiffany to win.
1: Bridget Bowman, “GOP Rep. Sean Duffy resigning on Sept. 23,” Roll Call, August 26, 2019, https://www.rollcall.com/2019/08/26/gop-rep-sean-duffy-resigning-on-sept-23/)
2: Laura Schulte, “Tiffany raises more than $1 million in 7th Congressional special election race; Zunker trails with $300,000 in donations,” Wausau Daily Herald, April 16, 2020, https://www.wausaudailyherald.com/story/news/politics/2020/04/16/wisconsin-7th-district-tom-tiffany-out-raises-tricia-zunker/2984130001/)