sean duffy

Duffy's Resignation Moves WI-07 from Solid to Likely Republican

On Monday, Wisconsin GOP Rep. Sean Duffy announced that he will resign from the House on September 23, citing heart complications for a baby he and his wife are expecting in October. Duffy becomes the 13th Republican this cycle to announce an exit of any type, compared to three Democrats that have done so. Fortunately for Republicans, this rural northern Wisconsin seat voted for President Trump by 20 points and has been trending their way for years.

Under Wisconsin law, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers must schedule a special election between 92 and 122 days of declaring a vacancy. But if he waits to declare a vacancy, he could schedule a special election on April 7, 2020 to coincide with Wisconsin's presidential primary and a state supreme court election. It's possible that Democrats' heated presidential primary could lead to a Democratic turnout advantage and make things more interesting.

There's some Democratic DNA in the 7th CD, which includes Wisconsin's iron-rich Gogebic Range: former Rep. Dave Obey held this seat for more than four decades prior to 2010, when Duffy, a competitive lumberjack and former Real World cast member, came in amid a GOP wave. But shortly after, GOP mapmakers made the seat several points more Republican by replacing the college town of Stevens Point with heavily GOP Twin Cities exurbs. 

Even in the "blue wave" of 2018, Democrats couldn't attract a top-tier candidate to run and Duffy defeated attorney Margaret Engebretson 60 percent to 39 percent, virtually identical to Trump's margin. Today, the Wisconsin State Journal reported state Sens. Tom Tiffany and Jerry Petrowski as potential Republican candidates and state Sen. Janet Bewley and state Rep. Nick Milroy (both of the labor-heavy Iron Range) as possible Democrats. 

For perspective, Wisconsin's 7th CD voted for Trump by about the same margin as Pennsylvania's old 18th CD, which Democrat Conor Lamb flipped in a March 2018 special election. But only 22 percent of adults in WI-07 hold college degrees, well below the 36 percent in PA-18. And so far in special elections held in 2019, Democrats haven't outperformed the partisan fundamentals of districts by nearly the same margin as last cycle.

It would take a combination of a massive Democratic turnout advantage and a deeply flawed GOP nominee to put this race in play. But special elections can be volatile, so we're putting this race on our watch list in Likely Republican for now.