- Associated Press - Sunday, October 23, 2016

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) - Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is looming large in the fight for an open congressional seat in northeastern Wisconsin, eclipsing candidate resumes and policy discussions about Social Security, minimum wage and national security.

Republican Mike Gallagher, a former Marine with plenty of foreign policy expertise, is vying with Democrat Tom Nelson, the Outagamie County executive and a former Wisconsin legislator, to replace incumbent Republican Reid Ribble, who decided not to seek a fourth term in Washington.

The 8th Congressional District includes Appleton, Green Bay, Door County, the Menominee Indian reservation and rural swaths of Marinette, Oconto, Shawano and Waupaca counties. It’s one of the few remaining swing districts in Wisconsin, moving back and forth between Republican and Democratic control over the last 20 years.

The GOP wants badly to hold onto the seat this cycle; the Republican National Congressional Committee PAC has spent nearly $1 million opposing Nelson so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Gallagher, of Green Bay, is a former Marine captain who deployed twice to Iraq. He holds a doctorate in international relations and served as national security adviser on Gov. Scott Walker’s short-lived presidential campaign last year. His biggest issue is bolstering the U.S. military.

Nelson, of Appleton, served in the state Assembly in the mid-2000s, gaining fame first for mounting a one-man sit-in an empty Assembly chamber to protest a state budget stalemate and then rising to majority leader in 2008. He ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 and won election as county executive in 2011. He wants to raise taxes on the wealthy to preserve Social Security.

But the presidential race has become a major campaign issue, with Nelson working to tie Gallagher to Trump, particularly after video surfaced earlier this month of Trump using vulgar language to describe women and appearing to condone sexual assault.

It’s a tactic that could resonate with voters.

“I don’t back Trump and therefore I don’t back him,” Janet Conrad, a 77-year-old retired insurance customer service representative from Appleton, said in explaining why she won’t vote for Gallagher. “(Trump) makes my blood curdle.”

Nelson accused Gallagher in a debate last week of siding with Trump and again in a television ad launched Friday. Nelson said in a telephone interview that Gallagher has shown a complete lack of moral courage by not disavowing Trump.

“This is a do-the-right-thing issue,” Nelson said. “We haven’t had a candidate for office that has said and done the things Donald Trump has said or done.”

Gallagher said in a telephone interview that he can’t defend Trump’s remarks but that he will vote for him because he can’t support Hillary Clinton. He stressed that Congress should act as a check on the president, regardless of who’s in the Oval Office.

“I’m not running to serve the president or serve party leadership,” Gallagher said. “I don’t think about it in terms of what’s good politically.”

Mark Schaeffer, 47, of Appleton, voted early for Gallagher and Trump. Schaeffer said he sees Trump as the lesser of two evils. Clinton simply isn’t trustworthy, he said. He voted for Gallagher because he served in the Navy in the 1980s and he believes Gallagher will act with a firm hand when it comes to foreign policy.

“The way the world is, with terrorism, we need a strong Congress,” he said.

But Marge Woodfill, 67, of Appleton, who runs a small network marketing business, said she supports Nelson because Gallagher appears aligned with Trump.

“I’m very concerned about (Trump‘s) attitude toward women,” Woodfill said. “I don’t think (Nelson) is particularly well-known. He seems honest to me. He seems forthright to me. Gallagher could be, too, but his connection to Trump taints him.”


Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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