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Tom Petri to Face Rare Republican Challenger in 2014

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The fourth longest-serving U.S. Representative in Wisconsin history has faced only two primary challengers during his 17 previous reelection bids

tompetri10.jpegCould yet another moderate be exiting the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2014 elections?

News came out of Wisconsin late last week that longtime Republican U.S. Representative Tom Petri would receive a primary challenge in the Badger State's 6th Congressional District this November.

Petri is set to face State Senator and Assistant Majority Leader Glenn Grothman, who declared his intent to run on the program of popular WTMJ radio conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes.

Grothman has served 9+ years in the senate after a 12-year tenure in the assembly.

Grothman will run to the right of Petri, who recorded the 29th most liberal voting record among Republican representatives in the 113th Congress according to National Journal's 2013 ratings.

Petri voted more conservative than just 56.8 percent of the chamber - good for the 203rd most conservative overall.

Wisconsin's 6th CD has a +5-point GOP tilt, making it the 190th most Republican-leaning district in the nation.

Petri, who will turn 74 in May, is one of the longest-serving U.S. Representatives from the Badger State and is unaccustomed to primary fights.

During Petri's 17 reelection bids dating back to 1980, the congressman has had to face a primary challenger just two times - and neither were established political figures like Senator Grothman.

After 10 reelection bids without a challenger from 1980 through the 1998 cycle, Petri easily defeated John Moder in the 2000 GOP primary with 86.8 percent of the vote.

Five more cycles passed without a Republican challenger until Laura Stephens in 2012. Petri won that primary with 82.2 percent.

Petri has nearly always cruised to victory in the general election as well - with Democrats failing to field a candidate in more than one-third of his reelection bids: in 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2006.

Representative Petri has won reelection by an average of 55.3 points during this 30+-year span.

The Marinette-born congressman got his start in the chamber by first defeating six GOP opponents in a February 1979 primary to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Republican William Steiger.

Petri won that primary with 35.3 percent of the vote - defeating then State Representative Tommy Thompson in second place by 16.5 points and then narrowly beating Democrat Gary Goyke by 0.8 points that April.

Only one challenger has come within single digits of defeating Petri ever since (Peggy Lautenschlager, losing by 5.8 points in 1992) and only two others have lost by less than 25 points (Gary Goyke in a 1980 rematch by 18.6 points and Joe Kallas in 2012 by 24.3 points).

Overall, Petri currently has the fourth longest tenure in the U.S. House of the 181 men and women to serve in the chamber in Badger State history at 35 years and 3 days through Sunday, April 6th.

Petri passed Democrat Clement Zablocki (1949-1983) last month and now trails only Democrat David Obey who logged in 41 years, 9 months, 2 days in the chamber between 1969 and 2011, Republican Henry Cooper at 35 years, 11 months, 22 days (1893-1919; 1921-1931), and fellow GOPer Jim Sensenbrenner of the state's 5th CD at 35 years, 3 months, 3 days (1979-present).

Sensenbrenner will pass Cooper for second place by the end of this term.

Longest Serving U.S. Representatives in Wisconsin History

Rank
Representative
Party
Terms
Period
Length
1
David Obey
Democrat
21
1969-2011
41 yrs, 9 months, 2 days
2
Henry Cooper
Republican
18
1893-1919; 1921-1931
35 yrs, 11 months, 22 days
3
Jim Sensenbrenner
Republican
18
1979-present
35 yrs, 3 months, 3 days
4
Tom Petri
Republican
18
1979-present
35 yrs, 3 days
5
Clement Zablocki
Democrat
18
1949-1983
34 yrs, 11 months
6
Robert Kastenmeier
Democrat
16
1959-1991
32 yrs
7
Alvin O'Konski
Republican
15
1943-1973
30 yrs
8
John Byrnes
Republican
14
1945-1973
28 yrs
8
Henry Reuss
Democrat
14
1955-1983
28 yrs
10
John Nelson
Republican
13
1906-1919; 1921-1933
23 yrs, 5 months, 24 days
11
Les Aspin
Democrat
12
1971-1993
22 yrs, 17 days
12
John Esch
Republican
11
1889-1921
21 yrs, 11 months, 27 days
13
James Frear
Republican
11
1913-1935
21 yrs, 9 months, 30 days
14
Gerald Kleczka
Democrat
11
1984-2005
20 yrs, 9 months
15
Merlin Hull
Republican / Progressive
11
1929-1931; 1935-1953
20 yrs, 4 months, 11 days
16
William Stafford
Republican
10
1903-1911; 1913-1919; 1921-1923; 1929-1933
20 yrs, 3 months, 14 days
17
Gardner Withrow
Progressive / Republican
10
1931-1939; 1949-1961
19 yrs, 9 months, 30 days
18
Glenn Davis
Republican
10
1947-1957; 1965-1974
18 yrs, 8 months, 8 days
Through April 6, 2014. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

It is not without precedent for long-serving members of Wisconsin's U.S. House delegation to lose their party's nomination.

A total of 18 Wisconsinites have been elected to the U.S. House for 10 or more terms since statehood.

Of these 18, four lost their party's nomination to end their runs in Congress:

· 13-term Republican John Nelson (1906-1919; 1921-1933) lost his remonination bid in 1932. (Nelson also lost the GOP nomination after his seventh term in 1918).

· 11-term Republican John Esch (1889-1921) lost his party's nomination in 1920.

· 10-term Republican Glenn Davis (1947-1957; 1965-1974) lost his renomination bid in 1974.

· 10-term Republican William Stafford (1903-1911; 1913-1919; 1921-1923; 1929-1933) lost his party's nomination in 1932. (Stafford had also lost the GOP nomination in 1910 and the general elections of 1918 and 1922).

Will Petri become the fifth? Not likely.

The congressman had nearly $1 million cash in hand for his reelection campaign through the end of 2013.

Candidates have until June 2nd to file in the Badger State. The primary will be held on August 12th.

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