- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Elections have been pretty mundane in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District the past four decades, with re-electing Capitol Hill stalwart Rep. David R. Obey a mere formality for most of his 21 terms.

Not so in 2010.

When Mr. Obey announced in May he was stepping down, voters in his largely rural northwest Wisconsin district suddenly were exposed to a lively, close — and often negative — House campaign for one of the first times in more than a generation.

And in another break from recent tradition, a Republican is in good position to represent the massive district — the state’s largest, geographically — since Mr. Obey’s predecessor, Melvin Laird, left Congress to become President Nixon’s defense secretary in 1969.

Republican Sean Duffy, a former district attorney who gained fame as a youth by winning lumberjack competitions and as an MTV “Real World” cast member, is pitted against state Sen. Julie Lassa.

Handicapping the race is difficult as few independent polls have been conducted. But with Mr. Duffy, 39, aided by a national pro-Republican wave and a few early Lassa campaign missteps, most political experts peg him as the favorite.

“Republicans have been hoping and hoping and hoping to find the right kind of candidate, and they’ve tried every decade, and Sean Duffy is looking like a pretty solid candidate as far as they’re concerned,” said Dennis Riley, a political science professor at University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, which is located in the district.

“He’s young … he was raised in part of the district, he’s a good campaigner, he’s active, interested, organized.”

David Wasserman, who covers House races for the independent Cook Political Report, said Mrs. Lassa, 40, “has run a very weak campaign,” whereas Mr. Duffy successfully has portrayed himself as an independent-minded outsider.

In one Duffy campaign television advertisement, the candidate, wearing a red-checkered flannel shirt, literally log-rolls a “career politician” into a lake, a subtle swipe at Mr. Obey and Mrs. Lassa.

“He’s great at the sales pitch, and the Democrats and Lassa haven’t been able to match that,” Mr. Wasserman said.

Mr. Duffy had the advantage of campaigning months ahead of Mrs. Lassa, who only entered the race after Mr. Obey announced his retirement less than six months ago.

University of Wisconsin at Madison political science professor Charles H. Franklin said Mrs. Lassa stumbled early, appearing somewhat unfocused on TV while struggling to develop identifiable campaign themes.

“That may be partly her (or) it may be just that Democrats generally are having a hard time finding the themes that are going to carry them to victory this year,” Mr. Franklin said.

The race means more to both parties than simply capturing one of the House’s 435 seats. With Mr. Obey serving as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and holding the seat for more than 40 years, a Republican win would be a symbolic boost for the party and an embarrassment for Democrats.

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