Trump-Backed Tom Tiffany Candidate Wins Wisconsin Special Election

The Donald Trump-backed candidate won Tuesday's special election to fill the U.S. House seat in Wisconsin's seventh congressional district held by Representative Sean Duffy, who resigned last fall.

Tom Tiffany, a Republican state senator whom Trump has repeatedly promoted on Twitter, won by a 57.2-42.8 percent margin on Tuesday evening, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, against challenger Wausau School Board president Tricia Zunker.

Zunker is also a professor and a justice on the Supreme Court of the Ho-Chunk Nation.

The seventh congressional district is deeply conservative. Trump won it by 20 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Duffy sailed to re-election by an even greater margin in 2018, when disaffected voters nationwide ushered in a new wave of Democratic freshmen.

This is the second major Wisconsin election that has been thrust into the national spotlight in recent weeks. In mid-April, progressive candidate Jill Karofsky unseated Daniel Kelly from his prominent spot on Wisconsin's Supreme Court. Kelly had been heavily promoted by Trump, and coronavirus fears led many advocates to conclude that he would prevail due to widespread polling-site closures in urban districts and unfulfilled absentee ballot requests.

Governor Tony Evers said that 52 people who either voted in person or worked at a polling site ended up testing positive for COVID-19 in the wake of the April election.

Evers signaled in late April that he would not seek to delay Tuesday's special election, as he had unsuccessfully attempted to do with the state's Supreme Court race. That move set off a chain of confusion and conflicting orders adding administrative chaos to an election already beset with public health concerns.

Election administration this time around has been somewhat smoother, and many of the complaints about the prior election have been seen as moot. In contrast with other congressional districts in the state, the seventh is largely rural, with just a small share of the state's coronavirus cases. All six polling locations in one of the district's largest cities, Wausau, were in operation Tuesday.

Wisconsin's election law also allows any registered voter who wants an absentee ballot to request it. As of Tuesday morning, more than 113,000 registered voters had requested an absentee ballot for the special election, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. This represents 27 percent of all registered voters in the seventh district.

However, more than 2,000 absentee ballots still have not been sent by the commission, and as of Tuesday morning just over three-quarters of mailed ballots had been returned. Eligible voters had to cast a ballot, or deliver an absentee ballot, in person by 8 p.m. local time Tuesday in order for it to be counted.

national guard member wisconsin election coronavirus
A National Guard member works on election day at a polling location on April 7, 2020, in Madison, Wisconsin. The state held a special election on May 12 to fill the U.S. House seat in Wisconsin's seventh congressional district. Andy Manis/Getty