Duffy garners spotlight in 7th District challenge

The Washington Independent says Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy is among the 10 conservatives to watch in 2010, ranking him with the likes of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Sean Duffy
Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy greets supporters at the grand opening of his campaign headquarters Thursday night at 200 Main St. W., Ashland. Duffy is gaining national attention in his bid to unseat Wisconsin Democrat Dave Obey in the 7th Congressional District. (Submitted photo)

The Washington Independent says Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy is among the 10 conservatives to watch in 2010, ranking him with the likes of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Time Magazine this week reported Duffy could be among the GOP challengers to follow in the footsteps of U.S. Scott Brown, the first Republican elected to office from Massachusetts in 32 years. The news magazine founded in 1923 predicts the Ashland County district attorney could give Wisconsin Democrat Dave Obey, head of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, a run for his money if Duffy defeats Republican candidate Dan Mielke in September's primary race.

Even the Wall Street Journal acknowledged the 38-year-old Ashland prosecutor's campaign challenging the "Goliath" is gaining traction as he seeks to defeat the congressman who's held the seat in Wisconsin's Democratic-leaning 7th Congressional District longer than Duffy has been alive.

"Sean is getting traction because he's talking common sense, fiscal responsibility and the need to leave job creation to Wisconsin's small businesses, not government and bureaucracies," said Craig Rosand, a teacher, supporter and chairman of the Douglas County Republican Party.

Duffy launched his campaign in early July in his hometown of Hayward before a crowd of hundreds and uncommon fundraising success started to create a light buzz about the Republican's campaign. By the end of 2009, Duffy raised $286,358 for his campaign, run largely with the help of his wife, Rachel, at his kitchen table. Duffy opened his campaign office in Ashland on Thursday.


"People thought there was something different about our race, not only in Wisconsin but around the country," Duffy said. "... I never anticipated this would happen. I think our hard work is paying off."

Duffy has reported the least amount of money supporting his campaign, but what stands out is where the money is coming from - farmers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, retirees, homemakers - more than 330 individual donations make up about 97 percent of the contributions reported to the Federal Election Commission at the end of December. Only 22 individual contributions - less than 10 percent in actual donations - came from outside Wisconsin. Three percent came from PAC funding - three donations totaling $8,000.

In contrast, about 89 percent of Mielke's campaign funding reported came from the candidate, $348,050 in-kind contributions. Only 11 percent of the $399,457 reported came from individual contributions, only about 41 contributions, and PACs have provided no funding.

While Obey has raised more money through individual contributions, those account for only 40 percent of Obey's total $902,665 in campaign funds reported in the quarter ending Dec. 31. About 67 percent of actual campaign dollars from individual contributions for Obey came from outside Wisconsin. About 59 percent came from PACs, only 14 of which - $22,400 - came from organizations in Wisconsin, none in the 7th Congressional District, according to data reported to the Federal Elections Commission.

Duffy, who divides his time in court and as a father of five with his sixth child on the way in April, said he gets out to public venues every chance he gets.

"I'm getting very positive feedback so far," Duffy said. He said while there is little doubt that there are people loyal to Obey, he's finding younger people don't necessarily share in that loyalty.

"I think people are open to a new candidate with new ideas, and I think that's what we're experiencing," Duffy said. "One of our biggest differences is the economy and jobs, and Dave and I have stark differences on how you stimulate the economy ... I don't think borrowing and spending through government is the way to grow the economy. I believe that the way the economy grows is through the hard work of individuals in the community. It's going to come from the sweat of risk-takers and entrepreneurs and hard workers." He said businesses are shell-shocked and concerned about pending regulations and tax increases, making them resistant to hiring when they don't know what their costs are going to be.

"I think we need a new generation of leaders that aren't like [President] Obama - that aren't like [George W.] Bush - that can live within our means in government" Duffy said.


"Sean is the right candidate at the right time; he articulates his common sense message of fiscal and personal responsibility in a fresh, credible and compelling manner," Rosand said.

The Web-based Washington Independent, a subsidiary of the Center of Independent Media, ranked Duffy No. 3, one spot behind Pawlenty and three ahead of Palin as the 10 Republicans to watch in 2010.

According to Time Magazine, Duffy would face the third longest serving member of the House whose narrowest margin of victory in 18 elections was seven points if he's successful in the primary.

"In a normal year, Wisconsin Democrat David Obey, the powerful head of the House appropriations committee, would not have to worry," the weekly news magazine reported. "But normal years do not bring challengers like Sean Duffy, a successful district attorney who also happens to be a former star of MTV's The Real World (the Boston season), a champion lumberjack competitor and an ESPN commentator."

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