U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, who has served his northern Wisconsin district for more than eight years, said Monday he will resign for family reasons.
The Weston Republican said he intends to step down from his post Sept. 23 due to complications with the baby his wife is due to deliver in late October.
“After eight and a half years, the time has come for me to focus more on the reason we fight these battles — family,” Duffy said in a post on Facebook. “Recently, we’ve learned that our baby, due in late October, will need even more love, time, and attention due to complications, including a heart condition. With much prayer, I have decided that this is the right time for me to take a break from public service in order to be the support my wife, baby and family need right now.”
Duffy, 47, has represented Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District since 2011 following the retirement of Democratic U.S. Rep. David Obey. It’s a solid Republican district, with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report estimating the district has voted 8 percentage points more Republican than the national average.
In 2018, Duffy, a former reality TV star, beat Democratic challenger and former military veteran Margaret Engebretson by a nearly 22-point margin. In 2016, President Donald Trump won the district by a 20-point margin.
Duffy, who was featured on MTV’s “The Real World,” is a former lumberjack athlete who served as a special prosecutor and Ashland County district attorney. On MTV, he met his wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy. Their baby due in October will be their ninth child.
Duffy came into office on the Tea Party wave of 2010 and has since become an avid Trump supporter. He recently found himself trading barbs with liberal Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, calling her “Green New Deal” legislation to combat climate change “elitist.”
Duffy has backed the president’s trade policies, and even introduced a bill earlier this year that would have expanded Trump’s authority to raise tariffs on imports. Trump, responding to a Georgia congressman’s tweet saying Duffy made Wisconsin proud, wrote on Twitter “I agree 100%.”
Duffy’s current term expires in 2021. Gov. Tony Evers must call a special election to fill the seat once Duffy resigns. The election must occur within 92 to 122 days of the governor’s order for an election. Depending on when that call is made, a general election could occur on April 7, 2020, to coincide with the presidential preference primary and state Supreme Court election.
Duffy, a rising star in the Republican Party, has been shortlisted as a potential candidate for governor or U.S. Senate in 2022. In a statement, Wisconsin GOP chairman Andrew Hitt said he and the party are “extremely grateful for his years of service and friendship.”
In a tweet, former Republican Gov. Scott Walker thanked Duffy for “putting family first.”
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So far, no candidates have come forward expressing their intention to run in a deeply red district that would present a formidable challenge for any Democrat. UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden said “it’s not impossible” for a Democrat to win, but that structural factors, particularly the way the district was drawn in 2011, favor Republicans.
The district has trended more Republican in recent years, and was one of the top regions for Trump support in 2016. Burden said a special election could make the seat more competitive and certainly less predictable, though he added Democrats “need a really impressive combination of factors” to pull off a win.
For example, a Democrat could benefit if the election falls on April’s presidential preference primary, when Democratic turnout is expected to be higher than usual.
Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, is considered a potential Republican candidate for the district. In a statement, Tiffany said an announcement on his plans is imminent.
“Since Sean’s announcement this morning, I’ve been receiving a number of calls asking about what’s next,” Tiffany said. “I plan to talk to my wife Chris and my daughters, and my future plans will be announced soon.”
Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, who also serves in the district, did not respond to a request for comment.
As for Democrats, Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, said he’s mulling a run and will decide in coming weeks after discussing it with his family.
“I think that northern Wisconsin deserves a congressperson that understands the struggles that families throughout the district face,” Milroy said. “I don’t think we’ve had that for many years now.”
Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Mason, is another possible contender. She said she isn’t ruling out a run, although she prefers her work in the Senate.
“I am inclined to stay right where I am,” she said.
Engebretson referred questions to her 2018 campaign spokesman, who didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman Ben Wikler said he is “hoping for the best for Duffy and his family.”