Attorney general tops Wisconsin statewide ballot

Voters cast their ballots at Fox Valley Lutheran High School in Appleton, Aug. 12, 2014.
Voters cast their ballots at Fox Valley Lutheran High School in Appleton, Aug. 12, 2014. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A three-way race for attorney general topped the ticket for Democrats in Wisconsin’s statewide primary Tuesday, with most of the biggest battles – including a competitive race for governor – still to come this fall.

The attorney general’s seat is open after incumbent Republican J.B. Van Hollen decided against seeking a third term. The winner of the Democratic primary will advance to face Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, a Republican, in November. The Democratic candidates are state Rep. Jon Richards of Milwaukee and district attorneys Susan Happ of Jefferson County and Ismael Ozanne of Dane County.

Tom Michalski, 61, a retired machine repair mechanic in Oak Creek, said he voted for Richards because of his experience serving in the Assembly since 1999.

“He has done a good job,” Michalski said.

Marak Schaitel, a retired pizza restaurant owner from Madison, voted for Happ because he said he liked her position on wanting to rehabilitate drug offenders. But Schaitel and other voters said they had a hard time differentiating among the three Democrats.

“They kind of blend together,” said George Esser, 65, a retired state employee from Madison. He didn’t vote for anyone in the attorney general race.

Two Democrats also are on the primary ballot for governor, although former Trek Bicycles executive Mary Burke was expected to easily defeat longshot candidate Brett Hulsey, who raised almost no money for the campaign and was largely shunned by party leaders, donors and other office holders.

Jeff Schultz, 59, an educational assistant in Racine, said he voted for Burke and considered Hulsey a “nonfactor.” Esser said, “I just can’t take that Brett Hulsey seriously.”

Republican Gov. Scott Walker was unopposed in the primary.

Voters also were casting ballots in contested primaries in five congressional districts, more than two dozen legislative races, and the Democratic lieutenant governor’s race. Turnout was expected to hit only 15 percent, as none of the statewide races generated much excitement or interest.

The candidates for attorney general have struggled to differentiate themselves in a campaign where they largely agreed on most issues. Richards is the only one of the three without experience as a prosecutor. Happ is the only one who doesn’t support making first-time drunken driving offenses a crime, rather than just a traffic citation as it is now.

Ozanne lagged in fundraising, while Richards was the first to get on television with an ad touting his experience. Happ released her first spot a week before the election, showing her riding a motorcycle and emphasizing her experience as a prosecutor.

In other races on the ballot:

U.S. HOUSE: In perhaps the most hotly contested primary contest, four Republicans were vying for the open 6th Congressional District which covers east-central Wisconsin. State Sens. Joe Leibham of Sheboygan and Glenn Grothman of West Bend faced state Rep. Duey Stroebel of Saukville and Tom Denow, a retired technical college instructor from Oshkosh.

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GOVERNOR: In the governor’s race, Burke largely ignored Hulsey and refused to debate him. Hulsey tried to draw attention to his campaign through a series of stunts, including promising to hand out homemade Ku Klux Klan hats at the Republican Party convention, but didn’t raise enough money to help get his message out or seriously contend with Burke.

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LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: State Sen. John Lehman of Racine faced Madison activist Mary Jo Walters in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch didn’t have an opponent in the Republican primary.

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SECRETARY OF STATE: There was a Republican primary for secretary of state, and both a GOP and Democratic primary for state treasurer. But since both offices have largely been stripped of their duties in recent years, and wield little to no real power, the races generated little attention.

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