La Crosse County supervisor Jill Billings emerged Tuesday from a field of four Democrats in the race for the state’s vacant 95th Assembly District seat.
Billings won the partisan primary with 52 percent of the votes. Rival Christine Clair, president of the La Crosse public school board, was second with 32 percent.
Pump House administrator and playwright David Krump got 7.9 percent, while Nick Charles, a retired building inspector who ran for the seat last year as a Republican, got 8.2 percent.
Billings, 49, will now face Republican David Drewes in the Nov. 8 special election.
“This is a Democratic district, but I’m not taking anything for granted,” she said Tuesday night while celebrating with her supporters. “There are a lot of independent voters in this district.”
Drewes was unopposed in the primary. The 75-year-old local government watchdog said it didn’t matter to him which Democrat won.
“I’m confident,” Drewes said, predicting a repeat of the September upset election in which a Republican businessman won the traditionally Democratic New York congressional district vacated by Anthony Weiner.
“I think people are ready for a change,” he said.
Like Drewes, Billings said she’s heard from many residents concerned about jobs and taxes.
“The number one concern I hear is that people want government to work for them,” she said. “I’ve been part of that in La Crosse County.”
Voters in the 95th district, which includes the city of La Crosse and small parts of the towns of Campbell and Shelby, have not elected a Republican in 40 years, though University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist Joe Heim says Mayor Matt Harter’s 2009 election shows a conservative can win in the city.
“I think (Billings) is a little better positioned to run against Drewes because she has broader experience,” Heim said. “I think (Drewes) can put up a decent fight. He’s pretty well established in his ideology. I don’t discount him.”
The seat has been vacant since Jennifer Shilling stepped down Aug. 26 to fill the state Senate seat she won in a recall election against Sen. Dan Kapanke. Shilling held the Assembly seat since 2000.
Tuesday’s turnout of 16 percent of registered voters was down significantly from the 58 percent who voted in the August recall election.
Nor has the race drawn the attention or outside money seen in the recalls, when Democrats had a chance to take control of the Senate. Republicans hold a 59-38 majority in the Assembly.