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Two state legislators entered the race to replace Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) in Wisconsin’s 2nd district Wednesday — ensuring a Democratic primary that will pique the interests of political observers in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.
The Democratic nomination in the Madison-based district is all but tantamount to winning the seat.
Baldwin, a liberal Congresswoman who announced her Senate candidacy on Tuesday, has won it by wide margins since the 2001 redistricting, as the surrounding parts of Dane County have trended Democratic.
There’s a good chance Baldwin’s successor will be state Rep. Mark Pocan or state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, who announced their candidacies Wednesday.
Two outside Democratic groups, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and EMILY’s List, are assisting Baldwin in her groundbreaking campaign to become the nation’s first openly gay Senator.
However, in Baldwin’s House district, the two groups are expected to split their loyalties between Pocan, who is gay, and Roys, who has been supported by EMILY’s List in the past.
Neither group has officially endorsed a candidate yet, but Pocan said he is working closely with the Victory Fund, which has helped finance campaigns of gay and lesbian candidates at all levels of government. Similar to EMILY’s List, which backs women that support abortion rights, the Victory Fund can tap into a national network of donors.
Additionally, Pocan’s and Roys’ campaigns include two former senior staffers at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Former DSCC Executive Director J.B. Poersch, now a managing director at SKDKnickerbocker, is a media consultant for Pocan, while former DSCC Political Director Martha McKenna, a principal at McKenna Pihlaja, is working for Roys.
In an interview Wednesday, Roys, who is in her second term, said the next 2nd district seat-holder must stand firm on the liberal issues Baldwin championed during her seven terms in Congress. Roys cited her work in the Legislature to extend health care access to lower-income workers and her leadership on consumer protection issues.
“It’s one of the very few districts in the country where you can really elect someone who can articulate Democratic values and fight for them with pride,” Roys said.
She added: “We need, more than ever, really strong, progressive voices who are willing to be bold and govern boldly.”
Roys officially announced her campaign via a morning press release and intends to hold a series of announcement events throughout the south-central Wisconsin district. She has not made final decisions on her entire campaign team, unlike Pocan, who announced his campaign at a press conference in front of his Madison small business, Budget Signs & Specialties.
Dan McNally, who managed then-Rep. Dan Maffei’s (D-N.Y.) unsuccessful campaign last year, will manage Pocan’s bid. Along with Poersch, SKDKnickerbocker’s Julie Norton will also serve as a media consultant. Mission Control will handle direct mail and Anna Greenberg will serve as pollster.
In an interview Tuesday, Pocan sought to differentiate himself from Roys. He cited his more than 17 years in public service, including five on the Dane County Board of Supervisors, and 20 years owning his business. He co-chaired the Joint Committee on Finance, which writes the state budget, and has the same constituents Baldwin had when she was elected to Congress, he said.
“The breadth of both legislative experience and life experience are significantly different,” Pocan said.
A third candidate, state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D), is also considering the race, but there is contradictory speculation in the district, including among Pocan and Roys, about whether he will ultimately run. Pocan isn’t so sure, while Roys expects he will. Erpenbach, who was first elected in 1998, told Roll Call he has yet to make up his mind.
Erpenbach was one of 14 state Senators that fled the state amid the battle with Republican Gov. Scott Walker over collective bargaining rights with state workers. He conducted multiple interviews on national TV, including on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report.”
“I expect to make a decision by the end of this week or early next week and make an announcement,” Erpenbach said Tuesday as he prepared to board a plane to Washington, D.C., to meet with the AFL-CIO board about the Wisconsin recall elections. “There’s a lot of encouragement for me to do it — as there is for Mark and Kelda — and it’s very intriguing.”