MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy announced Thursday that he won't challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018, throwing the race wide open by clearing the way for other Republicans who had been waiting for Duffy to decide.
Duffy, who was on MTV's "The Real World" in the 1990s and is a frequent guest on Fox News, said in a news release that this isn't the right time to run for Senate. Baldwin will be seeking a second term, and the seat is a top target for both sides.
Numerous other Republicans have expressed interest in running but were waiting to see if Duffy got into the race. Baldwin was first elected in 2012, a presidential year when then-President Barack Obama easily carried Wisconsin. But next year, Baldwin is expected to face a tougher path as Republicans try to knock off the state's highest-ranking Democrat.
Duffy, who is in his fourth term representing northern Wisconsin's 7th Congressional District, was widely viewed as the front-runner to run against Baldwin. He has built a national profile with his frequent TV appearances as one of President Donald Trump's earliest and most outspoken supporters.
Duffy drew criticism earlier this month when he said on CNN that "there is a difference" between terrorist attacks by white people and those committed by Muslims. He said a shooting at a Quebec, Canada, mosque last month by a white extremist that left six dead "was a one-off."
In the same interview, which happened just nine days before Thursday's announcement, Duffy also said "good things came from" the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting in which a white supremacist killed nine black people, as it led to the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina's Statehouse grounds.
Duffy, who has eight children, said in his statement that he decided not to run because "family always comes first." But Duffy said he looked forward to working with whoever the Republican nominee is to defeat Baldwin.
Republicans who are considering running for the seat include Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, state Rep. Dale Kooyenga, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, businessmen Eric Hovde and Kevin Nicholson and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
Vukmir issued a statement saying she was "strongly considering a run" but did not commit. None of the other potential candidates immediately returned messages.
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