Wisconsin's Primary Is Tuesday. Here Are the Races We're Watching.
Tuesday is Election Day in Wisconsin. Primaries will be held across the state, with 460,987 absentee ballots already returned on Friday, according to the Wisconsin Election Commission. (Shutterstock image)

Who’s running? How many people are voting absentee? It’s all here.

Tuesday makes a hat trick for pandemic elections in Wisconsin.

Voters will once again return to the polls amid the coronavirus pandemic, this time for the August primaries. Polling stations last opened in May for the 7th Congressional District special election that sent Republican Tom Tiffany to Washington, D.C., and before that on April 7 in the now-infamous partisan primary and state Supreme Court election.

A total of 892,411 Wisconsin voters had requested absentee ballots for the August primary as of Friday, with 460,987 being returned, according to a daily report from the Wisconsin Elections Commission. By comparison, the August 2018 primary election had fewer than 124,000 absentee requests and just under 107,000 returned.

While many current and prospective lawmakers are running unopposed for their party’s nomination, there are some notable primary races to watch.

Democrats Roger Polack and Josh Pade are competing for the nomination to take on U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, for the state’s 1st Congressional District in November. Steil is the successor to former House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Polack, a Racine-native former federal intelligence official, has a lengthy resume that took him around the world, working under both the Bush and Obama administrations.

From 2011-12, he worked in Afghanistan as the deputy director of the Afghan Threat Finance Cell, which investigated Taliban funding sources. He also had a hand in writing the Iran nuclear agreement.

Pade, a Kenosha-native attorney and 2018 gubernatorial candidate, has political experience as an intern in Democatic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and former progressive Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold’s offices. Professionally, he worked in risk management at the company J. Crew in New York City.

State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, is running for the Republican nomination for the 5th Congressional District to replace retiring Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.

Fitzgerald, the longtime state senator, is running against businessman and Coast Guard Reserve Cmd. Cliff DeTemple, a Jackson resident, for the Republican nomination.

The 5th Congressional District is likely to go to whichever Republican wins the nomination, but Democratic Navy veteran and businessman Tom Palzewicz of Brookfield is also running. He is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

In Green Bay, Rep. Staush Gruszynski faces a primary challenge from Kristina Shelton for the Democratic nomination for the 90th Assembly District. 

The state’s top Democrats have disavowed Grusyznki, who refused to resign last year after he sexually harassed a staffer in Madison. Assembly Minority Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh, as well as Assistant Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein of Middleton, and Democratic Caucus Chair Mark Spreitzer of Beloit, endorsed Shelton.

In the 26th Senate District there is a seven-way Democratic primary to get the nomination to replace Democratic Sen. Fred Risser of Madison. Risser, 92, announced in March he would retire after 64 years in the Legislature, creating a mad dash of Democrats hoping to get the party nod.

Among the most notable candidates vying for the 26th district Democratic nomination are Kelda Roys, a former state representative and 2018 gubernatorial candidate, and 24-year-old political newcomer and progressive Nada Elmikashfi, who has made waves in political circles with her colorful social media presence and recent refusal to be considered for the Wisconsin State Journal’s endorsement.

Roys received endorsements from both the State Journal and The Cap Times, as well as other established Wisconsin Democrats including Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, Sen. LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee, and Rep. Shelia Stubbs of Madison.

She is also endorsed by labor groups such as the Building Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin, United Steelworkers, and Service Employees International Union.

Elmikashfi boasts her own impressive list of endorsements.

On Saturday, Elmikashfi received the endorsement of Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Like Omar, Elmikashfi is a Black Muslim woman who immigrated to the United States from Africa when she was young. 

“Our hope for the future is being built on tenacity, compassion, & courage—we’ve seen that hope embodied by Rep. Ilhan Omar,” said Elmikashfi in a tweet on Saturday. “I am honored to announce her endorsement. Rep. Omar has fought for progress in Congress. We will do the same in Wisconsin.”

Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, Voces de la Frontera, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, and the Democratic Socialists of America also have endorsed her.

A group of about 80 Madison-area leaders of color endorsed Elmikashfi,  who said their unified endorsement “is our direct response to the narrative spun by the Wisconsin State Journal that one of Elmikashfi’s opponents has the “trust” of BIPOC in Madison. We speak for ourselves and we are the best judge of what is in our own best interest.” 

UpNorthNews interviews with each 26th District candidate are available here, here, here, and here.

State Sen. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election for the 28th Senate District after just one term in the seat. There is a five-way Republican primary between Steven Bobowski, Julian Bradley, Marina Croft, Jim Engstrand, and Dan Griffin. Democrat Adam Murphy is running unopposed for the nomination.

Democrats Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, a Milwaukee County supervisor, and community organizer Joanna Bautch are seeking the Democratic nomination for Assembly District 8. Incumbent Democrat Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa is not seeking re-election because she was elected to be a Milwaukee alderwoman in April.

Three Democrats are competing to fill the vacant 17th Assembly District seat, formerly held by Rep. David Crowley of Milwaukee. Crowley resigned from the Assembly after being elected Milwaukee County Executive in April. The Democratic candidates are Mike Brox, a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher and deputy field director for U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore; Milwaukee County supervisor and Moore’s son, Supreme Moore Omokunde; and Milwaukee County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Walton.

In the 76th Assembly District, State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison  left the Legislature to be appointed a Dane County Circuit Court judge. Her departure has resulted in a seven-way Democratic primary between Dewey Bredeson, Heather Driscoll, Francesca Hong, Ali Maresh, Nick Vander Meulen, Marsha Rummel, and Tyrone Cratic Williams. 

You can read about the 76th District candidates in UpNorthNews candidate interviews here, here, and here.