Freshman Republican Sean Duffy is facing a challenge from Democrat Pat Kreitlow in a hotly-contested northern Wisconsin congressional race.
Election night, 2010: Sean Duffy has just become the first Republican in 41 years to win northern Wisconsin's sprawling seventh Congressional district. The former prosecutor, reality TV star and lumberjack tells his supporters that the government is too big, there's too much debt, and job creation should be left to the private sector, "But the bailouts and takeovers was expanding government and it was I think threatening the role that our traditional government has had in our lives and it was threatening to give us a European-style cradle to grave socialist state which I thought was unacceptable."
Two years later, a former television news anchor and state Senator is trying to win the district back for Democrats. To Pat Kreitlow, an activist federal government isn't socialism, it's a lifeline. He speaks of growing up in a single parent household that relied on food stamps and Medicaid, "And they couldn't give me anything but a solid work ethic. When my younger siblings were old enough, I'd watch them overnight as my mom waited tables third shift at a truck stop so that she didn’t have to stay on welfare. Financial aid was what allowed me to be first in my extended family to graduate from college."
A Kreitlow ad mocks Duffy's lumberjack persona, showing two woodpiles with a large stack for millionaires, and a small stack for seniors, "The budget Sean Duffy voted for cuts Medicare benefits to pay for more tax breaks for the wealthy."
Duffy responds with an ad featuring his mother Carol, who tells us she's a lifelong Democrat, "Don't believe the lies. Sean will do what's right for Medicare and seniors."
At their first debate in Wausau, the issue of Medicare is front and center, Kreitlow says, "He went on to do essentially the ending of Medicare as we know it by turning it into a coupon program where seniors would get that voucher that does not keep up with health care costs." Duffy responded, "Sen. Kreitlow and his plan is the only plan that has Medicare ending. It's going broke under his proposal. It's not solved. It's not solvent. It's going broke."
The two spar on the Dodd Frank financial reform law. Duffy accuses Kreitlow of wanting to bail out big banks. Kreitlow says Duffy is in the pocket of Wall Street, "Dodd Frank picks winners and losers. It identifies banks that are so big that if they fail, they're going to ask every taxpayer in Wausau, Wisconsin and America to bail them out." Kreitlow responded, "He's done exactly what they've wanted him to do, and as a result has collected three quarters of a million dollars in contributions from banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, real estate firms and oil and natural gas companies."
But the biggest back and forth comes over reproductive rights when Kreitlow brings up Duffy's support of a bill that substituted the words ‘forcible rape’ for ‘rape,’ "And we don't deserve to have a Congressman who one of the first bills he signed on to would redefine rape. We don't need that." Duffy's response is personal, "I prosecuted rape cases. I heard the stories of women and children who had been raped. And as I was working to put those rapists behind bars, you might have read a teleprompter to tell the people in your community about it. So don't talk to me about rape."
Duffy says he is 100 percent pro-life, but says he respects those who disagree, "For me, I believe that life begins at conception and it goes until natural death. And I believe that you protect life at conception." Kreitlow says, "Congressman Duffy, you spoke about respecting our ideas. I believe we need a Congressman who will respect women, and make sure that they don't face government coming between them and their doctor."
For Democrat Pat Kreitlow and Republican Sean Duffy, the role of government is crucial in this election. And something else is crucial, Wisconsin's new Congressional map, which may have made the seventh district more Republican.