Wisconsin 6th District
Central Wisconsin is solid country, a producer of basic commodities—milk, butter and cheese, Kleenex, Mercury outboard motors, and military trucks. This is where the rolling hills and prairies of southern Wisconsin begin to give way to the pine and hardwood forests and glacial lakes of the North Woods. Settled first by Yankee Protestants, it was one of the birthplaces of the Republican Party in February 1854, when a group of Whigs, Free Soilers and Democrats met in a small white schoolhouse in Ripon, Wis., and proclaimed themselves Republicans. (A similar gathering took place in Jackson, Mich., which also claims to be the birthplace of the party.) The party grew rapidly, winning a near majority in the U.S. House in that year’s elections. The 1850s brought the first surge of German migration into the United States, and central Wisconsin was a favorite destination. They built the dairy farms and factory towns that seemed steadfastly prosperous, and they developed a manufacturing economy. The German influence is still felt. Sheboygan is the Bratwurst Capital of the World, though these days it’s also home to more than 4,400 Asians, mostly Hmong, and 5,200 Hispanics. Fond du Lac County was the testing ground for former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson’s welfare-reform program. The county’s welfare rolls, never high, fell to zero after the program began in 1994.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 6th Congressional District is a slice of central Wisconsin from Lake Michigan to the Wisconsin River. In the 2000 census, it had the highest percentage of residents of German ancestry, 39%, in the nation. It includes Sheboygan and Manitowoc on Lake Michigan, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac on Lake Winnebago in the Fox River Valley, and the towns of Menasha and Kimberly, just outside Appleton. It also takes in five rural counties to the west and south. Oshkosh, the largest city in the district, is no longer the place where children’s clothing maker OshKosh B’Gosh manufactures its products. But it is home to the Oshkosh Corporation, which employs more than 14,000 people worldwide and produces everything from dump trucks to military vehicles. Politically, this had been Republican territory since that first meeting in Ripon, but its GOP leanings have waned as the national party has become increasingly dominated by Southern conservatives. In 2008, the district voted narrowly for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, 50%-49%. Traditionally, it has elected moderate Republicans who have come up with thoughtful and original policies. One was the late William Steiger, first elected to Congress in 1966, who hired a University of Wisconsin graduate student named Dick Cheney. Steiger’s chief monuments were the all-volunteer military, the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and one of the first efforts to cut capital-gains tax rates.