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Politics & Government

6th Congressional District: Money Plays A Factor In Race Featuring Grothman, Kohl

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Republican incumbent Glenn Grothman (left) faces Democratic challenger Dan Kohl (right) in Tuesday's election.

It’s being called the most competitive House seat in Wisconsin involving an incumbent. Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman says he’s in the “toughest race of his political career” against Democratic challenger Dan Kohl. The two have been barnstorming the 6th District, which spans from Mequon north to Appleton.

On a cloudy but festive Sunday in downtown Cedarburg, in the heart of the 6th Congressional District, thousands of people are out and about, stopping in at the city’s quaint shops and restaurants. A German band is performing at the annual Oktoberfest celebration in the middle of downtown. But, mixed in with this peaceful scene is a political war of sorts, as dozens of yard signs for Glenn Grothman and Dan Kohl sit next door and across the street from each other.

One person taking it all in is Sarge, a U.S. Marine. He plans to vote for Republican incumbent Glenn Grothman, who’s held the seat for four years. Sarge says Grothman has done a great job and wants to see Republicans hang on to the House.

“I think the concern is that we stay on the course, and staying the course is jobs, the taxes that have decreased. Some people are saying they’ve increased, but they’ve decreased property taxes,” Sarge says.

Grothman agrees, his work in Washington isn’t finished.

“The economy is always important. I think they like the fact that the economy is booming, and they want to keep it booming. People are concerned about health care. I voted for a couple of health care plans, but we weren’t able to get anything done. I hope we can get something done in January or February,” Grothman says.

He says if re-elected, he’ll make sure protections for pre-existing conditions remain in place, even if the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) is repealed. He also supports building a wall at the U.S./Mexico border. But, Grothman says the biggest issue in the race is money. He says Kohl has raised more — and is outspending him about 4-1 in media buys.

“I think any politician, if you’re outspent to this degree, you’ve got to worry,” Grothman says.

But Grothman, a former state lawmaker, thinks he’ll survive on sheer tenacity. He’s never lost a race. He’s known for working tirelessly on his campaigns, pressing the flesh at every pancake breakfast and fireman’s picnic he can find.

But people at another event 70 miles north of Cedarburg, are unhappy with Grothman’s record, and they want a change. On a chilly morning, about a dozen citizens gathered in Oshkosh at a rally for Kohl, the Democrat in the race. Jennifer Neary of Black Wolf says she supports Kohl, including because of his stance on health care.

“Our son, in 2016, was diagnosed with cancer and we are very concerned about losing protections for pre-existing conditions. Republicans have been trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, time after time after time and if it weren’t for one vote in the Senate, they would have repealed it,” Neary says.

Kohl, a political newcomer, grew up in the 6th District and has done stints at a lobbying firm in Washington and in the non-profit sector. He’s the nephew of former U.S. Senator and Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl, and at one time, worked as an executive for the team. Kohl says the voters he’s spoken with have expressed concerns about the influx of special interests into politics.

“People are very concerned about the state of our democracy, the role of dark money, of corporations, so I am fighting for new leadership that puts the interests of constituents ahead of corporations and is out to serve my constituents and not just to please party leaders,” he says.

Kohl says his campaign isn’t accepting any corporate PAC money, and if elected, he’ll fight to require that all spending in elections be reported. He says he’ll also work to lower health care costs and protect coverage of pre-existing conditions. Kohl says while the district historically is a Republican stronghold, he thinks it’s winnable.

“It’s a district that Barack Obama carried. My uncle is Herb Kohl. The last time he was on the ballot in this district, he got well over 60 percent,” Kohl says.

Republican Tom Petri held the seat for 25 years prior to Grothman winning it in 2014.

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