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Sheriff candidates tabbed in primary for vacancies in western Wisconsin

Jimmie Kaska (WEAU)

Aug 10, 2022

There were contended primaries in six different western Wisconsin counties Tuesday.

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Tuesday’s primary narrowed the field in several western Wisconsin races for county sheriff.

There were contended primaries in six different western Wisconsin counties: Buffalo, Chippewa, Eau Claire, Juneau, La Crosse and Vernon.

In most cases, candidates were seeking to replace a longtime sheriff of their county. In Eau Claire County, for the first time in more than 26 years, Ron Cramer wasn’t on the ballot. Dave Riewestahl, who runs the Eau Claire County Jail, defeated Kevin Otto, who also works at the Eau Claire County Jail, in the Democratic primary with 55% of the vote. Riewestahl will face Don Henning, a detective with the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office who ran unopposed in the Republican primary, in November’s election.

After 44 years in law enforcement, Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk announced he was retiring earlier this year. The race to replace him featured two candidates in the Republican primary with backgrounds in law enforcement, part-time Cornell Police officer Travis Hakes and Lake Hallie gun shop owner Dan Marcon. Hakes edged Marcon with 52% of the vote and will face Democrat Chris Kowalczyk, the brother of Jim Kowalczyk and who was uncontested in the primary, in November.

Another long-time member of law enforcement, La Crosse County Sheriff Jeffrey Wolf, opted against re-election after 34 years of service. A pair of Republican candidates faced each other in the primary, with Fritz Leinfelder winning over Marte Peterson with 72% of the vote. Leinfelder will face Democrat John Siegel, who ran alone in the Democratic primary, in the November election. To the south, John Spears stepped down in Vernon County as sheriff after 12 years, and again a pair of Republicans squared off in the primary, with Roy Togerson earning 78% of the vote over Scott Bjerkos. Togerson does not have an opponent registered in the November election.

In Buffalo County, Michael Schmidtknecht is retiring as sheriff, and two members of the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Office vied for the office in the Republican primary. Investigator Mike Osmond defeated chief deputy Lee Engfer with 62% of the vote, pulling away as results from the cities, towns and villages came in early Wednesday morning. Osmond does not have a registered Democratic opponent in November’s election. Juneau County also had a contested Republican primary, with Andrew Zobal defeating Steven Johnson with 67% of the vote.

Voter turnout in most western Wisconsin counties ranged from the mid-20 percent range to the mid-30 percent range amongst registered voters. About one-third, or 33%, of registered voters turned out in Eau Claire County, while about 34.77% of registered voters casted ballots in La Crosse County. Even rural counties saw voter turnout among registered voters around that level, with Price County reporting about a 31% voter turnout and Monroe County about the same at 30.94%.

Turnout was likely buoyed by big-ticket primaries in statewide or congressional races in western Wisconsin, as voters tabbed their preferred candidates in the gubernatorial, U.S. Senate, and Congressional Districts 3 and 7 races, as well as Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State and Treasurer.

A full rundown of Tuesday’s primary is available online. Full county-by-county results are available from county clerk offices statewide.

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