- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

MILWAUKEE (AP) - A conservative state senator known for speaking out against abortion, affirmative action and welfare benefits defeated two other legislators Tuesday to win the Republican primary for Wisconsin’s lone open congressional seat.

Glenn Grothman defeated three other candidates, including state Sen. Joe Leibham and state. Rep. Duey Stroebel, in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Petri.

“With this win tonight, we have sent a clear message to Washington - it’s time for bold, conservative reforms to address the incredible challenges we face as a country,” Grothman said in a statement.

With little to distinguish the three leading Republican candidates on the issues, they had begun to bicker over votes on specific bills, and Stroebel drew attention with a self-funded ad attacking his two better-known opponents. The real estate developer put nearly $700,000 of his own money into the race, insisting that Congress needed “small-sector and private-sector experience.”

“While not the outcome for which we had hoped, I will proudly support Governor Walker and Glenn Grothman in November and encourage my supporters to, as well,” Stroebel said in a statement.

Grothman fired back at Stroebel during a debate in Plymouth, noting he had written more than 60 bills signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, while Stroebel had six. He said in a later interview that he wanted to be judged on his productivity, including his push for tax credits for manufacturers and private schools, efforts to fight abuse in nursing homes and proposals to limit food stamp eligibility.

“I have been out in front on so many more bills that it’s apparent that my conservatism is deeper,” the 59-year-old Campbellsport lawyer said in comparing himself to his opponents.

He said late Tuesday night that his outspokenness wouldn’t change as he heads into the general election.

“I think when I meet with people, we will be able to win people over to our message,” including concerns about out-of-control welfare and federal involvement in schools, Grothman said.

Dr. Jason Geiger, 38, said he thought all three candidates were strong, but he and his wife, Beth Geiger, both voted for Grothman in part because they had met him at local events.

“He’s a strong conservative, has family values, and is pro-life. That’s important to us,” said Jason Geiger, who lives in Cedarburg.

Genial and upbeat, Leibham presented a strong contrast in personality with the blunt and sometimes confrontational Grothman, but he insisted he was equally conservative. Both boycotted a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters, which had sued to overturn Wisconsin’s law requiring photo identification at the polls, which a federal judge recently put on hold. Leibham, 45, of Sheboygan, wrote that bill.

R.J. Rubel, 63, of Columbus, said voted for Leibham because the state senator was a good businessman and family man with three children. Leibham worked for Sargento Foods and the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce before running for office.

“I’ve listened to the other guys. That’s the one who stuck out,” said Rubel, who owns a trucking company. “He’s just a businessman.”

A fourth candidate, Tom Denow, a 57-year-old retired technical college instructor from Oshkosh, ran a low-budget, quiet campaign. Grothman will face Winnebago County executive Mark Harris, a Democrat, and Libertarian Gus Fahrendorf in the general election.

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