KENOSHA, Wis. -- Democrat Peter Barca, a four-term state Assembly member, Tuesday narrowly defeated conservative Republican Mark Neumann in Wisconsin's First Congressional District for the seat vacated by Les Aspin.
Aspin, a Democrat, held the seat for 22 years before resigning to become President Clinton's defense secretary.
With all the votes counted, Barca defeated Neumann by a margin of about 2,000 votes -- 50 percent to 49 percent. Barca squeaked out the victory on his strength in his home county of Kenosha, where he defeated Neumann by 6,000 votes.
Neumann had proclaimed the race an early referendum on the Clinton presidency, particularly the tax policies announced by the president. He predicted voters would show their dismay for Clinton's tax policies by electing him.
Barca rejected Neumann's characterization of the race as a reflection on Clinton's presidency. He said people he met in his campaign gave no indication their vote would be based on Clinton.
'I felt from the start this was a race between Peter Barca and Mark Neumann,' he said. 'We had a different approach to government and a different sense of what the key issues needed to be.'
Nevertheless, Barca distanced himself from Clinton during the campaign by pledging not to support tax increases or an economic stimulus package until the Clinton administration comes up with more spending cuts.
Democrats in Congress were paying close attention to the race, especially after Sen. Bob Kreuger, D-Texas, finished second in the primary Saturday and was forced into a runoff against front-runner Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson to fill Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen's Senate seat.
Barca is a former teacher of emotionally disturbed children and a four-term state Assembly member from Kenosha. He is chairman of the Assembly Democratic caucus. In his eight years in the Legislature, Barca pushed for a higher minimum wage and welfare reform.
Barca favors the Freedom of Choice Act which would put a woman's right to abortion in law while Neumann opposes it. Neumann opposes abortion rights and his candidacy gained support from national conservatives, including Phyllis Schlafly and Pat Robertson.
Barca said he would back any policy on gays in the military that Aspin and Clinton come up with. Neumann said he opposes gays in the military.
Neumann, a former math teacher and wealthy businessman, lost to Aspin in the general election in November following an aggressive campaign that forced the seemingly unbeatable Aspin to actively campaign.
The district includes the industrial cities of Kenosha, Racine, Beloit and Janesville plus farming areas and resorts.