When Rep. Shelia Stubbs was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 2018, she became the first African-American to represent a Dane County in the state Legislature. Two years later, the Madison-area delegation is poised to be even more diverse.
The round of victories in this year's fall primary brings with it new voices and some potential "firsts" for Wisconsin and Dane County come January, when the new class of lawmakers will be seated.
While some of the candidates who won primaries on Tuesday in the four open Dane County seats will face Republican challengers in the Nov. 3 general election, given the heavily blue nature of the districts, the Democrats are expected to easily prevail.
Diversifying Madison's delegation
Chef and restaurant owner Francesca Hong, who won a seven-way primary for the 76th Assembly District, which spans the length of Madison's isthmus, has said she would be the first Asian American to serve in the Legislature.
The co-owner of Morris Ramen and president of the Culinary Ladies Collective, Hong's priorities include promoting equity and addressing systemic racism. She gained 28% of the vote, topping second-place finisher and Madison police officer Tyrone Cratic Williams, who logged 22%, per unofficial results.
"I woke up today proud to be a mom, a service industry worker and community organizer. I will always be these 3 things," she wrote in a Wednesday morning tweet. "I'm also a proud Korean American and ready to represent the (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) community in WI. I am grateful for a community that gives me space to be proud."
She'll go head-to-head with Republican Patrick Hull, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on Nov. 3.
In the neighboring 48th Assembly District, Madison Ald. Samba Baldeh, an immigrant from the Gambia, would likely be the first Muslim lawmaker elected in Wisconsin.
Acknowledging the significance of his victory in an interview Tuesday night, he told the Cap Times: "This means a lot, not only for me but for my immigrant community, the African American community and the white community."
Baldeh, who's in his third term representing District 17 on the City Council, won the four-way Democratic primary with nearly 50% of the vote, according to unofficial results.
After facing Republican Samuel Adams in November, Baldeh, assuming he wins, is set to join a Legislature where only one lawmaker elected in the last 20 years was born outside the United States, according to a check of Wisconsin's Blue Books by the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau. That's Rep. Jessie Rodriguez, R-Franklin, who was born in El Salvador.
Among Dane County's two likely new state senators, former state Rep. Kelda Roys in the 26th (who won a seven-way primary) and current Rep. Melissa Sargent in the 16th (who defeated Democratic opponent Andrew McKinney), both would be the first women to represent their respective districts.
Overall in Dane County, voter turnout on Tuesday far outpaced what officials saw in August 2016.
The most recent figures are more in line with what the county logged in 2018, when a series of statewide primaries for governor and the other constitutional offices were on ballots.
In the 2018 fall primary, turnout was 39.6%.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell estimated around 80% of the ballots cast for this election were absentee — mailed in or submitted at early in-person sites — though he cautioned officials "won't know the true number for a while."
The estimate, he noted, is in line with the breakdown the county saw in April, Wisconsin's first statewide pandemic-era contest.
In Madison specifically, turnout for Tuesday's election was 38.95%, according to early figures from the City Clerk's office. That outpaced the August 2016 turnout rate of 22.7% and was just slightly below the 43% turnout the city saw in August 2018.
Preliminary numbers provided by Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl showed 79% of voters cast absentee ballots. That's up from the nearly 70% of Madisonians who voted by mail in April, when turnout in the city was just over 50%.
Eyes on the 76th District
The closest race of the Dane County elections, Madison's 76th Assembly District, had some interesting implications for the 26th Senate district.
As one of three Assembly districts that make up the 26th — and the only one with an open primary (though Rep. Lisa Subeck in the 78th District easily fended off a Democratic challenge) — interest in the races was high.
Stretching from parts of Regent Street near Camp Randall Stadium to Bridges Golf Course on the east side, the district's Capitol Square wards went to Hong. She also handily carried the pivotal 45th ward on the near east side with 628 votes.
While most of the field was comprised of political newcomers, two of Hong's opponents currently hold elected office: Madison Ald. Marsha Rummel and School Board member Nicki Vander Meulen. Neither of them won a single ward in the district, according to a Cap Times analysis.
Hong jointly campaigned with 26th Senate District candidate Nada Elmikashfi, also a first-time contender, with both supporting each other in their respective campaigns. But it's unclear how tied their performances were tied in the 76th AD given the wide fields in both races.
Raw voter turnout figures in the 76th were higher this cycle compared to the last two August elections and Elmikashfi carried the 76th, claiming 1,001 more votes than Roys.
The difference there wasn't nearly enough for Elmikashfi to beat Roys, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress and governor in the past — who handily won the 77th and 78th Assembly Districts with 2,645 and 4,793 more votes than Elmikashfi, according to unofficial figures.
Roys ultimately won the seat with 40.2% of the vote, while Elmikashfi secured 26.8%.
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