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Kelda Roys prevails in seven-way Democratic contest for Madison Senate seat
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Kelda Roys prevails in seven-way Democratic contest for Madison Senate seat

Former state Rep. Kelda Roys is poised to rejoin the Legislature after winning a crowded, seven-way Democratic primary Tuesday to replace retiring Sen. Fred Risser in Madison’s 26th Senate District

The past candidate for governor and Congress was leading the field with 40% of the vote and more than 90% of precincts reporting, followed by recent UW-Madison graduate Nada Elmikashfi, who previously held roles in the Capitol, (27%) and former Madison Ald. Brian Benford, now a success coach for the UW-Madison Odyssey Program (10%). 

Roys will face no opponent this fall as no Republican or independent contenders are in the running for the seat, which stretches from the isthmus to the west side of Madison. She would be the first woman elected to the district, which Risser has held for nearly six decades.  

In a video Tuesday night, Roys praised Risser and the wide field of contenders and pledged to work daily "to be worthy of the opportunity that you've provided me with and to enact the big structural changes we so desperately need."

"While our campaign won this evening, our fight is just beginning," she added. "Democracy doesn't happen in a single day and we're living in unprecedented times."  

Among the other candidates in the race, Amani Latimer Burris, a small business owner and former Democratic Party organizer, was at 9%, recent UW-Madison graduate Aisha Moe, a past Democratic Party field organizer, logged 7% and Wisconsin Environmental Initiative head John Imes, who unsuccessfully ran for state Assembly in 2018, had 6% support, according to unofficial results posted by Dane County. 

William Davis III, a 2018 write-in candidate for lieutenant governor, logged 1% of the vote. 

The race to succeed the longest serving lawmaker in Wisconsin and the nation was heavily watched.

Elmikashfi, a first-time candidate who finished the race in second, received a great deal of attention in particular in the months and weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election, Wisconsin’s second statewide COVID-19-era contest. As one of the first contenders in the race, declaring in January when Risser was still an incumbent, she’s worked to use her social media presence to raise her profile, encourage supporters and occasionally push back on the party establishment and other contenders. 

Last month, Wisconsin’s Democratic leaders sided with Elmikashfi after she was targeted by Milwaukee Democratic Sen. Tim Carpenter in a flurry of Twitter posts that led to the brief suspension of his account for harassment. 

In a statement Tuesday night, Elmikashfi credited her supporters for building a "truly remarkable" movement that "paved the path for true progressive reform" and congratulated Roys on her "hard fought victory."

"This is such a great night for democracy no matter if the result hasn't gone our way," she said. "This is the first contested primary for this seat in a long while, the first new senator in 57 years and that is powerful. We will do well to keep our democracy just as engaged and inspired as it has been this year."

The seat is one of the Madison area's four open legislative districts this cycle. The others are the 48th Assembly District (spanning Madison’s north and far east sides); the 16th Senate District (which stretches from Sun Prairie to Stoughton); and the 76th Assembly District (covering downtown and the isthmus).

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Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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