After a last-minute ad blitz created turmoil in the race, lawyer and anti-drunk driving advocate Jimmy Anderson emerged the winner of a three-way Democratic primary in Wisconsin's 47th Assembly District.
No Republican is running to represent the district, making Anderson the de facto winner of the seat. The 47th covers parts of Monona, Fitchburg, Madison, Cottage Grove, McFarland and the town of Dunn.
Anderson defeated Fitchburg Alds. Julia Arata-Fratta and Tony Hartmann after racking up endorsements from prominent progressives including U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. He earned 45 percent of the vote, edging out Arata-Fratta with 38 percent and Hartmann with 17 percent.
Rep. Robb Kahl, D-Monona, decided not to seek re-election after representing the district since 2012.
Anderson said he knocked on more than 5,200 doors throughout the course of the race and credited the people who volunteered for his campaign with pushing him "over the finish line."
"It’s as much a victory for them as it for me," Anderson said.
Hartmann applauded Anderson's "diligent" work ethic, noting that Anderson had beat him to many of the 4,000 doors he knocked during the race.
Between now and November, Anderson said he plans to knock on more doors and help raise funds for other Democratic candidates.
"Once the session starts, it’s going to be about focusing on issues like education, the environment, making sure people get paid a living wage," he said.
The race turned negative in the days leading up to the primary, when an outside group ran a radio ad in support of Arata-Fratta claiming Anderson refused to sign the petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker in 2012.
Anderson, who requested the ad be taken down, said he couldn't sign the petition because he hadn't yet regained the ability to write after being paralyzed from the chest down in a car crash. The 30-second ad was credited to the Construction Trades Coalition.
Anderson and his family were hit in 2010 by a drunk driver in California. The crash left Anderson paralyzed from the chest down and killed his parents and younger brother.
Construction Trades Coalition treasurer Michael Ervin argued that Wisconsin law authorizes those "unable to sign due to physical disability" to authorize another person to sign on his or her behalf.
Arata-Fratta said the radio ad was "not something that I, or anyone with my campaign, approved of or paid for."
"For the most part, the race was pretty positive, but at the end it was unfortunate that it got as negative as it did," Anderson said. "I really hope the people who went after me with those ridiculous attacks, I hope they realize it wasn't a kind thing to do."
Anderson — a California native — and his wife decided to stay in Dane County after finishing their law and veterinary degrees in Madison. He founded a nonprofit, Drive Clear, aimed at preventing drunk driving and helping its victims. Having benefited from the highly politicized Affordable Care Act in the treatment of his injuries, Anderson was later inspired to run for office.
He outspent his opponents overwhelmingly, listing nearly $75,000 in expenditures on his Aug. 1 campaign finance report. Hartmann reported spending about $3,000, and Arata-Fratta about $6,200.
"He had a very professional team. He just was really motivated and he had a lot of resources," Hartmann said, alluding to the money spent on the race.
Hartmann also praised Arata-Fratta for a "spirited fight."
"I want to congratulate Jimmy Anderson on his victory tonight," Arata-Fratta said in an emailed statement. "Even though I am disappointed by the outcome, I am proud of the positive, grassroots campaign that I ran. I want to thank all of my supporters throughout the 47th Assembly District for all their amazing support. I look forward to continuing in my role as Fitchburg Alder and working for the citizens of the community at city hall."
Hartmann issued a challenge to Anderson to "improve the situation" at the state Capitol.
"We can put another progressive down at the Capitol, but … if we don’t start figuring out how to work together and knit this state back together, we’re in for a lot more heartache," Hartmann said.
Other notable primary results:
U.S. House District 1, Republican Primary
House Speaker Paul Ryan soundly defeated challenger Paul Nehlen, 84 percent to 16 percent.
"I am humbled and honored that Wisconsinites in the 1st Congressional District support my efforts to keep fighting on their behalf. Janna and I are grateful to have the support of so many in southern Wisconsin, and we are truly thankful for all of their hard work," Ryan said in a statement.
U.S. House District 8, Republican Primary
Mike Gallagher, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former foreign policy adviser for Gov. Scott Walker's presidential campaign, defeated state Sen. Frank Lasee and Forestville village president Terry McNulty, with 73 percent of the vote.
State Senate District 4, Democratic Primary
State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, fended off a challenge from state Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee, earning 58 percent of the vote to his 42 percent. Barnes gave up his Assembly seat to run.
State Senate District 6, Democratic Primary
State Rep. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, defeated Milwaukee School Board member Michael Bonds and former legislative aide Thomas Harris, with 61 percent of the vote.
State Senate District 18, Republican Primary
Fond du Lac County Party Chairman Dan Feyen defeated Oshkosh businessman and former pastor Mark Elliott, 56 percent to 44 percent. Feyen will face Winnebago Count Executive Mark Harris, who won the Democratic primary, to replace outgoing Sen. Rick Gudex, R-Fond du Lac.