Republican Tom Tiffany, left, and Democrat Patricia Zunker, right, are competing for an open seat in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District. (Photo: Journal Sentinel files)
While newly elected Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany has largely remained silent over the coronavirus pandemic, his Democratic challenger, Tricia Zunker, wants to take on the virus with masks and social distancing.
Zunker is eager to see leaders take more proactive actions against the spread of the virus in Wisconsin and across the country, providing PPE for frontline workers, increasing testing, increasing hazard pay for essential workers and extending unemployment for workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, she said.
“We need more education and better examples from elected officials. Far too many people are not taking safety protocols, such as wearing masks and safe social distancing, seriously,” she said in an email. “This pandemic is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue – it is an American health and safety issue. We are in this together and it requires everyone do their part to stop the spread of contagion.”
But Tiffany’s campaign did not answer questions about how the state and country should address the coronavirus pandemic, highlighting one of many divides between the two candidates once again vying for Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District.
Tiffany, a Republican, was elected to the House in a May 12 special election. He faces Democrat Tricia Zunker again. Tiffany defeated Zunker in May with 57% of the vote.
Zunker, 39, is the president of the Wausau School Board and an associate justice for the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court. She is the first Native American woman to run for Congress in Wisconsin since Ada Deer lost to Republican Scott Klug in 1992.
Tiffany, 62, has served as a state senator since 2013 and spent two decades running Wilderness Cruises on the Willow Flowage.
The two have also showcased a large divide over QAnon, a fringe conspiracy that took root on social media and claims that governments across the world are controlled by a shadowy cabal of pedophiles and Satanic cult members who will eventually be brought to justice by President Donald Trump.
Tiffany voted no on a resolution to condemn the conspiracy theory in early October, one of 17 Republicans in the House to do so. He said that while he condemns rioting, looting and violence, he believed the resolution was political posturing.
“Unfortunately Friday’s (Oct. 2) resolution was just another time-wasting exercise in election-year virtue signaling by Speaker Pelosi — time that would be better spent unlocking PPP funding, providing resources for the police who keep our neighborhoods safe and enacting common-sense liability protections for schools, health providers and small businesses,” he said in a statement.
Zunker on the other hand has been outspoken about her condemnation of the conspiracy group and her distaste over Tiffany’s vote.
“Conspiracy theories and movements like QAnon dehumanize citizens, incite violence and threaten our democratic institutions,” she said in an email to USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. “Rep. Tom Tiffany is so extreme that he won’t join his own party leaders in condemning this dangerous conspiracy theory and the violence it promotes. The message is clear: Rep. Tiffany is standing up for QAnon in Congress; he is not standing up for the people of Wisconsin.”
Since being elected, Tiffany has also made headlines for calling for the resignation of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, after unrest in Madison during a summer of Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Tiffany contended that Evers was ignoring the protests, during which protesters smashed windows of downtown businesses, toppled statues, attacked a state senator and broke windows at the Wisconsin Capitol building.
He was also one of two Republican representatives who voted against removing Confederate monuments in the U.S. Capitol building in July along with Rep. Glenn Grothman, who represents the 6th Congressional District.
Zunker has faced criticism as the president of the Wausau School Board over the board’s decision to start the school year from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Residents have protested the decision, even threatening to stage events outside of Zunker’s home, which she shares with her young son. In response to those threats, Zunker called police, saying that protesting at a private home “exceeds all bounds of decency in a civilized society.”
Tiffany is outraising Zunker with more than $1.8 million raised since he started campaigning for the seat in 2019, according to Federal Elections Commission report in July. Zunker has raised just over $844,000 since she started campaigning last year, according to FEC data from July.
Tiffany has spent nearly $1.6 million of that money, and Zunker has spent over $731,000, FEC data shows.
Among notable donors for Tiffany have been Stormy Kromer CEO Robert J. Jacquart, Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty owner John M. Tonne and John E. Link, the owner of Jack Link’s Protein Snacks. Among Zunker’s notable donors are producer Michael Schur, the co-creator of the TV show “Parks and Recreation,” and Lynde Bradley Uihlein, a Wisconsin philanthropist, liberal donor and an heir to the Schlitz fortune.
The 7th Congressional District is the largest geographically in Wisconsin, spanning 21 counties plus portions of five others. The district is home to more than 710,000 people, according to census data, and tilts toward Republicans. President Donald Trump won the district by 20 points in 2016. Voters in the district also backed Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly in the April 7 election that challenger Jill Karofsky, the candidate favored by Democrats, carried statewide.
If planning on voting in the Nov. 3 election, voters must be registered. Voters have until Oct. 14 to register online at myvote.wi.gov.
Voters can also register to vote in person at their municipal clerk’s officer until 5 p.m. Oct. 30 or on Election Day at their polling place. If you’re planning to register at the polls, make sure to bring a Wisconsin driver’s license or state ID or the last four digits of your Social Security number, as well as a document that provides proof of residence in Wisconsin.
Where and how to vote
Wisconsinites who are already registered to vote can cast their ballot in person at their local polling place, at an early voting site starting Oct. 20 or by mail, using the absentee system.
To vote early in person, contact your municipal clerk for dates and hours that the office will be open. A list of municipal clerks can be found at myvote.wi.gov.
The ballots filled out during early in-person voting will be sealed and signed after a voter fills it out, and will be counted on Election Day along with other absentee ballots
If you plan to vote absentee, you will need to have a request for a ballot in by 5 p.m. Oct. 29. If you are indefinitely confined or a military member not on active duty, you have until 5 p.m. Oct. 30. But waiting that long is not recommended, according to the commission. If you want your absentee ballot to arrive in time to be counted, you should request it earlier and plan to send it back by Oct. 27.
Laura Schulte can be reached at [email protected] and twitter.com/SchulteLaura.
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