The retirement announcement Wednesday of veteran Rep. David Obey (D) sent political shock waves through Wisconsin and prompted Democrats to immediately begin weighing how they will defend a district Obey dominated for more than four decades.
This is just unbelievable, said state Rep. Mary Hubler (D), who has represented part of Obeys northwestern 7th district for nearly three decades. She said she was shocked by the news and added Obey didnt mention anything about his political plans when they spoke Monday.
As surprised Democrats spent the day praising Obeys long House service and mulling potential successors, Republicans were promoting their prospects for winning a seat that was already on their radar screen.
Obeys retirement immediately enhanced the profile of Sean Duffy, a county prosecutor, former lumberjack champion and The Real World reality show contestant whose long-shot-but-determined challenge to the veteran Congressman had already attracted national attention.
There is no question that David Obey was facing the race of his life and that is why it is understandable that the architect of President [Barack] Obamas failed stimulus plan has decided to call it quits, said Ken Spain, National Republican Congressional Committee communications director.
Obey rejected that argument and suggested a district he almost always won by handsome margins would not elect Duffy this fall.
Let me put it this way, Ive won 25 elections does anybody really think I dont know how to win another one? Or for that matter has anybody ever seen me walk away from a fight in my life? Obey said after a press conference announcing his decision. The fact is, there isnt a chance of snowballs in Hades of that progressive Congressional district electing someone who is a poor imitation of George Bushs policies on a bad day.
Democratic strategists said the 7th district usually votes for their candidates in statewide elections. It gave President Barack Obama 56 percent of the vote in 2008.
Lets be very clear: This is a Democratic district that has been in Democratic hands that has elected Democratic candidates up and down the ticket for generations, said Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.
Just who will carry the Democratic banner in Obeys absence is an open question that party activists only began pondering Wednesday. There is plenty of pent-up ambition among would-be successors in a district that hasnt hosted an open-seat race since Obey was first elected in 1969.
This will have a domino effect, as it always does when somebody after 40 years hangs it up, Hubler said. Im sure there are people who have been waiting in line for their chance, and this is it.
The long list of potential Democratic candidates that emerged in the immediate aftermath of Obeys announcement included state Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, state Sens. Julie Lassa and Pat Kreitlow, state Rep. Donna Seidel and Wausau attorney Christine Bremer.
Republican state Sen. Dan Kapanke, who is challenging Rep. Ron Kind (D) in the adjacent 3rd district, said Decker would be a formidable foe if he sought the seat and noted his long tenure in Madison. A spokeswoman for Decker said he is undecided on the race.
Bremer, a former president of the Wausau School Board, said, I wont rule anything out, but today is a day for Dave Obey.
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