OCONOMOWOC, Wis. (AP) — Republican Scott Fitzgerald, a 25-year veteran of the Wisconsin state Senate, aligned himself closely with President Donald Trump on Tuesday when launching his bid for Congress in a deeply conservative district, defending the president’s trade policies and efforts to pay for a southern border wall.
Fitzgerald, 55, is the first Republican to enter the race to succeed longtime retiring U.S. Rep., 76-year-old Jim Sensenbrenner, with many others considering getting in.
Fitzgerald, of Juneau, praised Trump and cast himself as an ally to help pass his agenda.
At a news conference, Fitzgerald defended taking funding away from other military projects, including $8 million earmarked for building a small-arms range at Truax Field in Madison, to pay for Trump’s border wall. He said it was a small dollar amount compared with how much Congress could allocate for the wall.
Fitzgerald also said Trump was on the right track with his trade policies when asked how they were affecting Wisconsin’s struggling dairy industry and manufacturers.
“You’ve got to be on the offense. I think that’s where the president’s at,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s continually trying to push that envelope and ultimately it’s going to pay off for us. It might be a little frustrating, but for the most part when I talk with people in the agriculture community they tell me they support what the president’s up to.”
Fitzgerald’s communications director Myranda Tanck cut off questions after his answer to that one, less than eight minutes into the news conference.
Fitzgerald was an early Trump supporter 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, 55, has been in the state Senate since 1995 and has served as the Republican leader since 2011. Fitzgerald said he had no intentions of stepping down as majority leader during his run for Congress and he doesn’t think his run will negatively affect his job helping Republicans running for the state Senate.
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.”
“Voters in the 5th Congressional District and across Wisconsin are sick and tired of career politicians like Scott Fitzgerald who are more interested in the next rung up the ladder and playing political games than getting things done,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler.
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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