The way state Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) sees it, Tuesday's Democratic primary between Mark Clear and Lisa Subeck is a good gauge of the mood of Dane County voters.
"Do people want a fighter in the Assembly or do people want a moderate?" Hesselbein wondered Tuesday morning. "That's how [the candidates] are painting themselves."
Given Subeck's victory with 57% of the vote, people apparently want a fighter. Unofficial results have her winning 3,811 to 2,909. Both candidates currently serve on the Madison Common Council.
Subeck will run unopposed in the Nov. 4 general election in the solidly Democratic 78th district, which represents much of the west side of Madison. Brett Hulsey, who has represented the district since 2011, declined to run for reelection to launch an unsuccessful bid against Mary Burke in the Democratic primary race for governor.
Clear conceded that people came to see the race as between someone who would go to battle and someone who would try to find common ground.
"I'm very proud of the way we ran the campaign," he said at his party Tuesday night at Vintage Brewing on Whitney Way. "We didn't do anything negative. Maybe people aren't quite ready for a message of working together, because that was our message. Clearly having someone who will fight rather than work to make progress is what they are looking for."
Subeck said her grassroots campaign and experience helped her win the race. "People do want a fighter," she said at her victory party at Schwoegler's bowling alley. "People want someone who is going to stand up for those [progressive] values, but that doesn't mean you don't find opportunities to work together where interests in common exist."
Others found the choice much less black-and-white. Teddy Higgins, a Madison firefighter, says he knows and likes both candidates -- he made an appearance at both parties. Although he wouldn't say whom he voted for, Higgins said it wasn't an easy choice.
"Either way, we knew we had a winner in the 78th," Higgins said, adding that the candidates have similar values. "Anyone who knew Mark and Lisa had a tough decision today."
Subeck's victory is a milestone of sorts in Madison. Almost the entire city is now represented by women in the state Assembly, except for a sliver on the east side represented by Rep. Robb Kahl, a Democrat. The rest of Madison is represented by Chris Taylor, Terese Berceau and Melissa Sargent, all Democrats. Hesselbein and Sondy Pope, also Democrats, represent areas just west and south of the city line. All these lawmakers, with the exception of Hesselbein and Kahl, are running unopposed in the general election.
Statewide, 25 of the 99 Assembly seats are now held by women, a ratio that could change with the general election.
Taylor announced Subeck's victory at her election party, welcoming her to the Assembly. Although the Democratic caucus did not endorse in the race, Taylor said she is happy to see more women serving.
"Women are 53% of the electorate, so women do determine what candidate is going to be elected, and women in Dane County are very aware of the attacks on them, of the attacks on reproductive health care, on pay equity. Women are very concerned about what's happening with education," Taylor told Isthmus. "Women are turning out and electing women. When women run, they have a great shot at winning."
Subeck said she was honored to serve with Taylor and the other women representatives. "Some of those folks are my own role models," she said, naming all the local women Assembly members. "Those are folks that I look up to, who I've seen fight particularly hard on issues. I'm eager to join them there."
[Editor's note: This report was corrected to reflect that Rob Kahl (D-Monona) will face a challenger in the general election.]