Wisconsin Republicans eye surprise open congressional seat in strong GOP district

Mike Gallagher
Posted at 11:48 AM, Feb 12, 2024

MADISON (AP) — The surprise retirement of a GOP congressman in a solidly Republican Wisconsin congressional district has potential candidates weighing a run, even as a former state lawmaker quickly jumped into the race.

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher announced Saturday that he won't run for a fifth term representing the 8th Congressional District in northeast Wisconsin. The abrupt move came just days after he angered his fellow Republicans by refusing to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Just hours after Gallagher announced his retirement, former state Sen. Roger Roth, of Appleton, announced his candidacy Saturday and endorsed Trump at the same time, something he did not do in his 2022 run for lieutenant governor.

The district Gallagher represents is firmly Republican. Seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, the 39-year-old Gallagher sometimes found himself at odds both with former President Donald Trump and his supporters, most recently over the Mayorkas vote.

Trump won the district by 16 points in 2020, even though he lost the state by less than a point to President Joe Biden. Gallagher won reelection three times by no fewer than 25 points. The district includes the cities of Appleton and Green Bay, Door County and covers mostly rural areas north through Marinette.

Roth served in the Legislature from 2007 to 2023 and was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2022. He ran for Congress in 2010 but lost in the primary to eventual winner Reid Ribble.

Roth, in a statement Saturday, pitched himself a "proven conservative fighter" while calling for strengthening the border, national security, the economy and "our traditional values."

While Roth was the first candidate to get in, he almost certainly won't be the last.

Trump ally and Republican consultant Alex Bruesewitz, who had said Gallagher "betrayed the Republican Party and the American people with his vote to side with Mayorkas," is considering a run. He posted on X, formerly Twitter, a letter of support from the chair of the Oconto County Republican Party and said that he looked forward to "spreading the MAGA message to the patriots in the Oconto GOP."

Bruesewitz immediately won the support of former Trump campaign consultant Roger Stone, who posted on social media that Bruesewitz "would have the full support of the MAGA movement."

Bruesewitz, 26, was born in Wisconsin but currently lives in Florida. He would have to move back to Wisconsin to run for the seat.

State Sen. Andre Jacque, of De Pere, also said he was considering running. Other current and former Republican members of the Legislature are expected to consider running.

Democrat Kristin Lyerly, a De Pere doctor, previously said she was considering a run against Gallagher. Democrats fielded no candidate in the 2022 election.

The Wisconsin Democratic Party said in a statement Saturday that it looked forward "to competing in the 8th and bringing some stability and competence back to the House."

Candidates have until June 1 to submit nomination papers for the Aug. 13 primary.

The open seat will certainly fuel a competitive Republican primary, but the presidential race and not one for the congressional seat will drive turnout in November, said longtime conservative strategist Mark Graul who lives in the district. He didn't expect the race to greatly impact the presidential race.

The race could be shaken up dramatically if the Wisconsin Supreme Court agrees to hear a redistricting lawsuit challenging congressional boundary lines. said Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin political science professor. The court has not said whether it will hear the challenge.

The state elections commission said in a legislative redistricting case that any new lines must be set by March 15 in order for deadlines to be met for candidates running this November.