Democrats and left-leaning groups are spending more than $300,000 in a longshot bid to unseat Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in District 63.
Vos has easily won elections in the historically Republican-voting district every two years since first being elected in 2005. But challenger Joel Jacobsen, a former Burlington alderman, thinks he has a shot this year to flip the district.
Most of that money, which dwarfs the few thousand dollars spent in the 2018 Jacobsen vs. Vos election, is being spent on online and television ads.
When Jacobsen unsuccessfully ran against Vos two years ago, Jacobsen won 39% of the vote while his campaign spent less than $10,000 in total. Compare that with last week Tuesday, when the Democratic Party of Wisconsin gave $75,000 in one lump sum to buy online ads in support of Jacobsen’s campaign.
“Have we been surprised by the level of media we’ve reached? Yes,” Jacobsen told The Journal Times in a phone interview Monday.
Jacobsen says he thinks the increased spending from both sides shows that liberals think they actually have a chance in the district and that Vos is more worried than ever about holding onto his seat — Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that he bought TV ads for the first time ever in his political career, to the tune of $70,000.
However, Vos says that Jacobsen and Jacobsen’s supporters on the left are using ads to slander him and misrepresent him in an attempt to steal the district.
Vos did not reply to requests for comment Monday. However, in a Facebook post Friday, the assembly speaker wrote: “My opponent keeps using the picture from when I volunteered to work at the polls in Burlington,” referencing a widely shared Journal Times video from April in which Vos tells voters “You are incredibly safe to go out” while covered head to toe in medical garb.
“Every poll worker was required by the City to wear PPE (personal protective equipment). I clearly followed their rules and now he is misleading the public AGAIN,” Vos’ post continued. “Joel Jacobsen is intentionally twisting the truth because he has no record of achievement to point to. I hope everyone knows he will do the bidding of the liberal interests who are pouring 100’s of thousands of dollars into attack ads against me … Again, this is what is wrong with politics today. It is reprehensible and disgusting. Joel Jacobsen should be ashamed of himself.”
Jacobsen said that he is not involved in all of the anti-Vos advertising. Left-leaning groups like Wisconsin Conservation Voters and A Better Wisconsin Together have paid for anti-Vos ads without going through Jacobsen’s campaign.
Gov. Tony Evers’ campaign too has spent more than $100,000 in ads that accuse Vos and other Wisconsin Republicans of being inactive throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The GOP-led legislature has not passed any bills since April, although Vos has responded by saying that Evers is to blame for the gridlock in part because $75 million the Legislature set aside to be spent by the governor to combat the pandemic still sits untouched.
Wisconsin Conservation Voters, a Madison-based environmentally focused group that has dropped more than $100,000 in the District 63 race this year, said in a tweet Sunday: “New polls are showing @SpeakerVos is vulnerable. It’s a toss-up for District 63. This is the moment. We’re taking the fight straight to @repvos.”
A Better Wisconsin Together, a self-described “research and communications hub for progressives,” has spent $75,000 in the last two weeks alone in anti-Vos online advertising.
Upsetting Vos could leave a power vacuum in the Wisconsin Legislature since the Republican heads of both houses could both be gone — with Vos being pushed out of office and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald potentially headed to D.C., since he is seeking to replace the retiring Jim Sensenbrenner in U.S. Congress.
Despite the spending, there’s still a good chance Vos will hold onto the district. The Campaign Finance Institute rates District 63’s race as “uncompetitive.” As Adam Jarchow, a former Republican member of the Wisconsin Assembly, put it in a Friday tweet, the liberals spending to unseat Vos “might as well light the money on fire.”
There’s still a feeling even from some on the left that District 63 is too deeply Republican to be flipped. A Friday tweet from Twitter user WisconsinDemocrat read: “Why are Dems wasting their money? This is not a winnable race. Focus their money on better races!”
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