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Wis. Assembly Speaker Fitzgerald, vocal in union rights debate, announces run for US Senate
MADISON, Wis. (AP) ' The Republican speaker of the Wisconsin state Assembly, one of the key backers of Gov. Scott Walker's proposal curbing bargaining rights for public unions, announced Tuesday that he is running for the U.S. Senate.
Jeff Fitzgerald said in an interview with The Associated Press that he believes his role in passing that law is his largest asset heading into the race. The proposal drew protests as large as 100,000 people and made Wisconsin the center of a national fight on union rights,
"It's the No. 1 thing I've got going for me. It's fresh in people's minds," Fitzgerald said. "We did it right in Wisconsin. ... There are conservatives who think Wisconsin is ground zero for the movement."
The Wisconsin Senate race, which is open due to the retirement of Democrat Herb Kohl, could help swing the balance of power in the Senate where Republicans need to pick up four seats to take control.
Democrats have held the Senate seat since 1957. So far there is only one Democratic candidate, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin from Madison.
Fitzgerald's entry into the race further muddies the Republican field. Former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who served 14 years as Wisconsin's governor primarily in the 1990s, is also running along with former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann. A fourth lesser-known Republican, state Sen. Frank Lasee, is also considering a run.
Fitzgerald said he wasn't intimidated by Thompson.
"If I were, I wouldn't be in the race," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald, who was first elected to the Assembly in 2000 and became speaker this year, was at the forefront of the fight over Walker's union bill, which played out during a dramatic 61-hour filibuster in February. Republicans voted to pass the bill in the dark of night as Democratic lawmakers and protesters shouted "Shame!" at them as they left the floor.
The law, which does away with nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public workers, has since taken effect and been upheld by the state Supreme Court. Federal lawsuits are pending.
Fitzgerald said his work on that measure shows he's battle-tested and can deliver on promises.
"I just think I'm very electable because what we set out to do, we accomplished," Fitzgerald said.
Both Fitzgerald and Neumann are casting themselves as more conservative alternatives to Thompson, who at age 69 hasn't been on the ballot in Wisconsin since 1998.
The national conservative group Club for Growth has endorsed Neumann and already run a television ad against Thompson. Neumann also has won the endorsement of conservative South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.
Thompson has been busy lining up support from Republican office holders and power brokers in the state. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is serving as honorary co-chair of his campaign and he's also been endorsed by five Republican state senators.
Fitzgerald, who turns 45 on Wednesday, was born in Chicago but his family moved to Wisconsin in 1974 when his father Steve Fitzgerald got a job as chief of police in the village of Hustisford in Dodge County. Steve Fitzgerald was appointed by Walker as the head of the Wisconsin state patrol in February.
Jeff Fitzgerald's brother, Scott Fitzgerald, is majority leader of the Wisconsin Senate.