Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald confirmed Tuesday he’s running for Congress to replace outgoing Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.
Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, made the announcement on Milwaukee’s 1130 WISN-AM. Sensenbrenner, 76, of Menomonee Falls, has held the seat in southeastern Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District since 1979. He announced this month he will retire at the end of his term in early 2021.
Like Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany, who announced a run to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy in northern Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, Fitzgerald closely aligned himself with President Donald Trump in rolling out his campaign.
At a news conference, Fitzgerald defended taking funding away from other military projects, including $8 million earmarked for building a small-arms range at Truax Field in Madison, to pay for Trump’s border wall. He said it was a small dollar amount compared with how much Congress could allocate for the wall.
Fitzgerald also said Trump was on the right track with his trade policies when asked how they were affecting Wisconsin’s struggling dairy industry and manufacturers.
“You’ve got to be on the offense. I think that’s where the president’s at,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s continually trying to push that envelope and ultimately it’s going to pay off for us. It might be a little frustrating, but for the most part when I talk with people in the agriculture community they tell me they support what the president’s up to.”
Fitzgerald was an early Trump supporter in Wisconsin, and his campaign website prominently features a picture of Fitzgerald standing next to a smiling Trump, who is giving a thumbs-up.
Fitzgerald proclaimed he was proudly on board the “Trump train” in 2016, even as other Republicans mounted a “Never Trump” effort that was particularly strong in Sensenbrenner’s district. Trump lost the state’s Republican primary to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz but prevailed in the general election over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by fewer than 23,000 votes, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Wisconsin in 32 years.
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Fitzgerald said he had no intention of stepping down as majority leader during his run for Congress and said he doesn’t think his run will interfere with his work helping Republicans running for the state Senate.
Fitzgerald’s announcement ends weeks of speculation over whether the top Republican would seek to get in the race. His announcement comes after other Republicans from the district bowed out of the running, notably former U.S. Senate candidate and state Sen. Leah Vukmir, of Brookfield; Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow; state Sen. Dale Kooyenga, of Brookfield; and state Rep. Scott Allen, of Waukesha.
Fitzgerald may still face Republican competition for the GOP-friendly seat from others, including former U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson; Matt Walker, the son of former Gov. Scott Walker; and Matt Neumann, the son of former congressman Mark Neumann. Others still mulling runs include Ben Voelkel, spokesman for Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, and Vince Trovato, Trump’s first state director in 2016.
Democrat Tom Palzewicz, who lost to Sensenbrenner 62% to 38% in 2018, is running again.
Fitzgerald has served in the state Senate since 1995 and as the top Senate Republican since 2011. Fitzgerald was a key figure in the passage of Act 10, the controversial 2011 law that weakened public-sector unions and gained attention across the nation.
During his time in state government, Fitzgerald also championed so-called “right-to-work” laws, which generally prohibit labor unions from requiring employee membership. He has also promoted anti-abortion legislation and curbing taxes.
“Voters in the 5th Congressional District and across Wisconsin are sick and tired of career politicians like Scott Fitzgerald who are more interested in the next rung up the ladder and playing political games than getting things done,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.