Republican Fitzgerald running for Congress in Wisconsin

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (left) gives a speech Jan. 15 in Madison, Wis., as State Rep. John Nygren (center) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (right) look on.

MADISON, Wis. — Republican Scott Fitzgerald, a 25-year veteran of the Wisconsin state Senate, announced Tuesday that he is running for Congress in a strongly conservative district to replace longtime U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.

Fitzgerald, the first Republican to enter the race, was an early supporter of President Donald Trump in Wisconsin and his campaign website prominently features a picture of Fitzgerald standing next to a smiling Trump who is giving a thumbs up.

Fitzgerald proclaimed he was proudly on board the "Trump train" in 2016, even as other Republicans mounted a "Never Trump" effort that was particularly strong in Sensenbrenner's congressional district. Trump lost the state's primary to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, but prevailed in the general election by fewer than 23,000 votes, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Wisconsin in 34 years.

The 5th Congressional District covers the conservative north and west suburbs of Milwaukee. Long a Republican stronghold, Trump easily won the district in 2016 by nearly 20 points. But he underperformed compared with Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. It was the only Republican-held congressional seat in the state where Trump did worse than Romney did.

Wisconsin will be at the heart of Trump's re-election efforts, along with Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida. A hotly contested congressional race in the 5th District could boost GOP turnout and be a boon for Trump.

Fitzgerald, of Juneau, praised Trump in a statement announcing his candidacy, saying the president has "made tremendous strides in fixing the D.C. dysfunction, but he needs more help."

Fitzgerald, 55, has been in the state Senate since 1995 and has served as the Republican leader since 2011. Fitzgerald helped usher through GOP former Gov. Scott Walker's signature anti-union law in 2011 that all but eliminated collective bargaining for public workers.

Fitzgerald cited his record in Wisconsin, including passing Walker's anti-union law, restrictions on abortions, a "right-to-work" law and tax cuts, as evidence that "we know how to fix broken government and put taxpayers back in charge."

"I haven't just talked about conservative principles, I've lived them, and I've helped to make them a reality here in Wisconsin," Fitzgerald said.

Analiese Eicher, director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, said Fitzgerald's entry into the congressional race will mean that he will neglect the job he was elected to do in the Legislature. Fitzgerald's term is up in 2022, meaning he won't have to give up his seat to run for Congress.

"He's already shown he's more interested in taking time to pander to the right wing voters who'll decide a primary election than taking on the issues important to the vast majority of the rest of us," Eicher said.

Many other Republicans are considering getting into the race for the seat Sensenbrenner, 76, has held since 1979. Democrat Tom Palzewicz, who lost to Sensenbrenner 62% to 38% in 2018, is running again.

Other Republicans mulling a bid include: former U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson; state Sen. Chris Kapenga; state Rep. Adam Neylon; Ben Voelkel, spokesman for Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson; and Vince Trovato, Trump's first state director in 2016.

Matt Walker, the son of the former governor, and Matt Neumann, the son of former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, are also considering getting in the race.

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