August 14, 2012 at 10:33 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Gay candidate wins Democratic primary in Wis. congressional bid

U.S. House candidate Mark Pocan (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The gay candidate seeking to replace Tammy Baldwin in the U.S. House claimed the Democratic nomination in the congressional race Tuesday night — all but assuring him a seat in Congress at the start of next year.

The Associated Press reported at around 10:24 pm on Tuesday evening that Mark Pocan, who’s gay and a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, won the Democratic nomination. His main opponent in the primary was Kelda Helen Roys, a fellow Assembly member.

With 35.6 percent of precincts reporting, Pocan had strong lead over Roys. Pocan had 69.6 percent of the vote, while Roys had 22.7 percent, according to Politico.

The primary coincidentally falls on the same night as Pocan’s birthday; he turns 48 years old on the same day he wins the Democratic primary. Pocan takes the Democratic nomination in the district that Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is vacating to pursue her run for U.S. Senate.

Wisconsin’s 2nd congressional district, which compromises Madison and nearby areas, is heavily Democratic. The Republican challenger Chad Lee, a businessman, isn’t expected to put up a serious challenge this fall. At this point, the U.S. House seat almost assuredly belongs to Pocan.

Pocan secured endorsements from prominent national LGBT groups, including the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and the Human Rights Campaign. Wisconsin’s state LGBT group, Fair Wisconsin, had also endorsed Pocan.

Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Victory Fund, praised Pocan’s work as a public official and said he’d be a “strong and authentic” voice for the LGBT community in the U.S. House.

“Mark Pocan is an outstanding public servant who will be a strong and authentic voice for LGBT Americans in Congress,” Wolfe said. “It’s fitting that as Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin fights to win a historic victory in the Senate, Mark Pocan will follow in her footsteps as one of the most powerful voices for LGBT equality in America.”

Roys, a former executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, had the backing of EMILY’s List, which is also supporting Baldwin in her bid for U.S. Senate.

Pocan outraised Roys during the election cycle. According to Federal Election Commission reports, Pocan had $785,000 in net receipts, $512,000 in net expenditures and $273,000 in cash on hand. Only $5,500, or about 1 percent, of his net receipts were from self-financing. On the other hand, Roys had $454,000 in net receipts, $388,000 in net expenditures and $66,000 in cash on hand. Her contributions to her own campaign amounted to $20,000, or about four percent of the total net receipts.

Roys’ negative attack ads against Pocan received significant media attention toward the end of the campaign. Late last month, her campaign began airing an ad saying Pocan “caved in” and voted with Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a Tea Party favorite, to “throw million of dollars in tax giveaways to big corporations.” She took flak from fellow Democrats as a result and lost her endorsement from State Rep. Fred Clark. In response, Pocan said during a news conference the ad was “far fetched.”

Pocan is married to Phil Frank. The couple has been together nearly a decade, and were married almost six years ago in Toronto, although the state doesn’t recognize their marriage due to a constitutional amendment ratified by Wisconsin voters in 2006.

In a Washington Blade interview in November, Pocan said he supports pro-LGBT legislation in Congress, including repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, as well as passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Uniting American Families Act. As a state lawmaker, Pocan said he played a key role in pushing through domestic partner benefits for state employees and, as part of the state budget, a domestic partner registry enabling same-sex couples to have some rights and responsibilities.

Pocan is one of several openly LGBT candidates who are on the ballot for U.S. House seats this fall. They include incumbents Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) as well as Richard Tisei in Massachusetts, Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, Mark Takano in California and Sean Patrick Maloney in New York.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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