The race for one of the most closely watched state Senate seats currently held by moderate Republican Sen. Dale Schultz was to get more crowded Tuesday with the expected announcement that a Democrat was joining the fray.
Ernie Wittwer, who worked 24 years for the state Department of Transportation including serving as its budget director, planned to announce his candidacy for the 17th Senate District at a Capitol news conference.
The seat is important for Republicans as they try to maintain or increase their 18-15 majority in the Senate next year. It is one of 17 seats up for election and one of just a handful considered competitive.
Schultz, a former Republican Senate majority leader, has held the southwestern Wisconsin seat for 22 years. However, he has been targeted for removal by conservatives angered over his opposition to a variety of issues the party backed, including making it easier to open an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining changes.
Republican state Rep. Howard Marklein, of Spring Green, has already entered the race and would face Schultz in a GOP primary. Schultz hasn't said whether he will seek re-election; he could also choose to run again but as an independent, thus side-stepping Marklein in a primary.
Democrats have invited Schultz to join their party, but he has declined.
Marklein has already been aggressively raising money for the race. Through the first six months of the year he had raised $116,000 compared with just $684 for Schultz.
Schultz, of Richland Center, and Marklein, of Spring Green, did not immediately return messages Tuesday.